What a rip-toff: Taxpayers spend £500m to send top Government’s officials kids to posh public schools
Taxpayers have forked out £500million in just three years to send top Government officials’ children to posh public schools such as Eton.
A Mirror investigation can today reveal the highly paid civil servants are getting a £26,000-a-year perk towards Britain’s most expensive education.
Just last year alone, the Foreign Office splashed out £27million for 717 children of diplomats.
The Ministry of Defence and Department for International Development are also spending tens of millions of pounds on the extravagant freebie.
[The Mirror’s] revelations – which can be disclosed after a year-long Freedom of Information fight was won this week – come as thousands of families have their child benefit payments slashed. Read more.
Steve Myall | The Mirror | 10th November 2012
Deadly weapons find at Commons
COPS guarding the Houses of Parliament have seized a huge arsenal of deadly weapons from visitors, The Sun can reveal.
Police have confiscated fake firearms, hundreds of knives and even swords at security checkpoints.
The shocking haul exposes cops’ daily battle to keep MPs and peers safe — and raises fears that a modern-day Guy Fawkes will one day beat the system. Our Freedom of Information requests reveal officers found 433 knives in the past three years as visitors passed metal detectors and X-ray scanners.
They also confiscated three fake guns, a knuckle-duster, a catapult, three telescopic batons, a cosh and a meat cleaver. This year’s haul includes a sabre and a sword. Read more.
Craig Woodhouse | The Sun | 11th November 2012
Scotland: A compelling case for transparency on radiation risk
The slow drip of worrying news about the radioactive contamination at Dalgety Bay does nothing for the people of Fife but engender fear.
Today’s revelations in the Sunday Herald that Government scientists have discovered a near-doubling in the incidence of cancers among people living near the contaminated zone will inevitably cause disquiet locally.
With concern, though, comes frustration – and the people of Fife, indeed Scotland at large, have every right to be angry with the Ministry of Defence. If it wasn’t for this newspaper pursuing the truth about the level of radioactive contamination under Freedom of Information legislation, the public would still have no knowledge of local cancer rates. It is better to know the truth, however potentially unpalatable, than to remain ignorant of possible health risks. Read more.
Herald Scotland | 11th November 2012
The private litter firm dishing out 700 fines a week: Company pockets £1.6m from town hall deals
A private company is raking in cash by fining more than 100 people a day for dropping litter, according to a report.
Members of the public are being treated as ‘cash cows’ by over-zealous litter patrols who work for a firm that has signed lucrative commission-only contracts with councils, say critics.
At least 12 local authorities have employed one business, Xfor, to issue on-the-spot fines. It keeps at least £35 from each £75 penalty notice its staff hand out.
Freedom of Information requests show that the company, run by ex-Armed Forces personnel, has pocketed £1.6million of the money it has raised from tickets handed out by 51 members of staff. Read more.
Ian Drury | Daily Mail | 12th November 2012
Gwent Police pays £200,000 to informants
THE bill for paying informants by Gwent Police over the last five years was nearly £200,000, it has been revealed.
The force paid £193,760 for information, contributing to a total of almost £900,000 across the Welsh police forces.
The revelation comes after Freedom of Information requests by Plaid Cymru. Figures show that the top force for paying informants is the South Wales Police Force, paying out £530,755. Read more.
South Wales Argus | 12th November 2012
The permanent secretary of the Department of Health, Una O’Brien, is opposing the information commissioner’s ruling for the government to reveal the risk assessments of the government’s NHS reforms, The Guardian reports.
The secretary said that publishing the documents under the Freedom of Information Act would have a “chilling effect” on the way civil servants tasked with outlining the potential pitfalls of a policy express their views.
O’Brien defended her position in front of an information rights tribunal after ICO’s Christopher Graham, ordered Andrew Lansley to release the risk assessments.
She also expressed her concern that the documents could “be interpreted and mispresented”. “If taken out of context, my own judgment is that they would lead to a distorted and wildly speculative interpretation of risk,” she said.
But The Guardian mentions that John Healey, the former shadow health secretary who submitted a FoIA request for the transition risk register, stressed “the need for reassurance about the possible consequences” of the shakeup is “greater now than when I made my disclosure request”.
Almost a thousand sex offenders remain untraceable
The Times reports that since September 1 last year the whereabouts of 843 registered sex offenders are unknown, with 690 of these having been untraceable for more than a year. The figures were released after FoIA requests to the National Policing Improvement Agency.
More than three million wasted over NHS’s IT project
The Pennine Care Trust lost over £3.2m over the last three years preparing for the NHS IT project Lorenzo, The Times reports. The data was disclosed after a FoIA request by the newspaper, relating to the patient record system that was finally scrapped last year.
Hundreds of paedophiles revealed under Sarah’s Law
Families turning to the Sarah’s Law scheme have exposed the identities of 157 paedophiles since last April, FoIA requests by The Sun have revealed.
A Freedom of Information investigation by the Mail on Sunday has revealed worrying links of an international management consultancy to the controversial Health and Social Care Bill.
McKinsey and Company has paid for a lavish trip to New York worth approximately £6,200 for David Bennett, the head of the NHS regulator Monitor and former executive of McKinsey. Another former executive of the company who is now Monitor’s director of strategy, Adrian Masters and Monitor’s chief operating officer, Stephen Hay, were also taken out with their families to see Cirque du Soleil, courtesy of McKinsey’s director Nicolaus Henke.
Mr Bennett has not broken the law but as a former McKinsey executive, he should have known he was ‘displaying questionable’ because of Monitor’s future role, which is being massively expanded by Health Secretary Andrew Lansley’s reform bill.
The company has already benefited from contracts worth undisclosed millions with GPs arising from the Bill and the report mentions numerous former McKinsey employees are already embedded in jobs which are critical if the reforms are fully enacted.
The documents were released after an eight-month Freedom of Information Act probe by Spinwatch’s researcher Tamasin Cave, who said the Department of Health has refused many FoI requests on the grounds that McKinsey advice which has shaped the Bill was ‘provided in confidence’, or was subject to ‘commercial confidentiality’.
Thousand of police officers take up extra jobs
A FoIA request by The Times has revealed the number of police officers taking up second jobs has tripled over the last three years. A parliamentary committee has already pledged to investigate potential conflicts of interest arising from the officers’ part-time jobs.
An Irish environmental disaster that could be averted
Ireland’s National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) and the Mayo county council have been heavily criticised for their failure to protect the country’s largest colony of rare freshwater pearl mussels, the Sunday Times reported. Correspondence between the two bodies that was released after a FoIA request by Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE) shows three scientists had warned against the repair works on the nearby Delphi bridge that resulted in the smothering of young mussels in a “matter of hours”.
Ed Balls slammed after FoIA revelations
Education Secretary Michael Gove has attacked former Labour minister Ed Balls for leaving thousands of kids scrambling for a place in primary schools. The Sun reports that a FoIA investigation showed Balls was warned the UK was in the middle of a baby boom and the country was to face a serious rise in nursery and primary pupils. Despite that, Balls cut the budget for extra school places to £419m but with schools now swamped, the Coalition has trebled it to £1.3billion.
Kevin Dunion, Scotland’s soon-to-depart Information Commissioner, has suggested that the FoIA be ammended in a number of ways to ensure it continues to be a useful piece of legislation.
The Times, The Herald, The Sun, The Telegraph and The Scotsman all report that Mr Dunion’s report Informing The Future is criticising the government’s lack of commitment to its original plans.
He told MSPs today that the Freedom of Information Act needs to be extended to make more public bodies open to scrutiny. “The MSPs promised, when the act was coming into effect, that it would be extended to cover more organisations, and 10 years on we are still waiting for that. I just want to remind them of that,” he said.
The Herald reported that he also suggested the next Information Commissioner should have extra powers, including the ability to demand evidence under oath, to prevent public bodies right up to the Scottish Government backsliding on their obligations.
Mr Dunion warned that transparency in Scotland would be undermined if FoIA was not applicable to private companies who are sub-contracted by public bodies to carry out public sector work.
His other suggestions include an extension of the timescale for the prosecution of those destroying evidence and resistance to the imposition of charges.
Mr Dunion will appear today before Holyrood’s Justice Committee to discuss his final report on the Freedom of Information.
McDonalds among the private bodies who might become subject to FoIA
Over 150 private bodies awarding qualifications including McDonald’s may become subject to Freedom of Information requests, BBC’s Martin Rosenbaum reports. If that happens, requests should only relate to their role as awarders of qualifications and wouldn’t extend to other areas.
The journalist also reports the Upper Tribunal is examining today Fish Legal’s appeal in a case involving three private water companies, Southern Water, Yorkshire Water and United Utilities. All companies claim they’re not covered by the Environmental Information Regulations as the campaign group claims.
The SNP has been criticised for its decision to heavily censor 17 documents released under the Freedom of Information legislation relating to the Edinburgh tram project.
The transport scheme was supposed to receive government support, but John Swinney, the SNP Finance Minister decided to “scale back” direct involvement in the scheme as soon as he took office in May 2007.
Swinney’s then decided to restore government support to the project last summer but by that time the budget had doubled to more than £1billion.
The redacted information disclosed under FoIA was labelled “unacceptable” by Scottish Labour and they have called for a public inquiry into the matter, with the ultimate goal of unveiling all the information.
The Telegraph reports that earlier this month, the Edinburgh City Council and Tie, the arms-length publicly funded company set up to deliver the project, responded to a similar FoIA request by claiming they no longer held the information.
They later own contravened their own statement, by admitting they did have the documents but couldn’t hand them over since it would cost too much.
Transport Scotland’s John Ramsay had told Labour there was no public interest in the information requested and the blacked-out information related to the formation of government policy but last night he admitted the redacted material did not concern the trams after all.
NHS orders GPs to avoid prescribing vital drugs
The Daily Mail reports more than a quarter of primary care trusts are urging GPs to avoid prescribing treatments for serious illnesses like cancer, because they’re deemed expensive. The revelation follows a Freedom of Information investigation conducted by the GP newspaper.
Cameron sends out thousands of Christmas cards each year
David Cameron has to write thousands of Christmas cards each year, a Freedom of Information investigation by The Guardian revealed. The Telegraph reports that last year the Prime Minister send out 1,410 cards to colleagues, friends and world leaders. Barack Obama, Nicolas Sarkozy, Angela Merkel and Hamid Karzai were among last year’s recipients.
The government has spent almost £750,000 on 8,815 London 2012 Olympic tickets, allocated to officials and VIPS according to the Independent.
Figures released under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s 213 tickets for the opening ceremony cost £194,525 while 41 top-priced tickets for the same event cost £2,012.12 each.
According to the Guardian, the government will argue 3,000 of those tickets will go to staff closely involved with the Games, who will be asked to pay for them in stages.
The Daily Mail, which filed the request, reports the tickets will be handed out to VIPs, business leaders and individuals with strong links to the Olympic movement and London 2012.
Mirror quoted Baroness Dee Doocey, who said officials “jumped the queue”. “The Olympics are special. They are about fairness and moral integrity. Politicians and officials watching the Games at taxpayers’ expense will undermine this.”
The Times mentions Jeremy Hunt, the Culture Secretary, defended the policy saying the nearly 9,000 tickets represented 0.1 per cent of the 8.8 million available.
Figures show alarming number of complaints in hospitals
The Daily Mail has made FoIA requests to Primary Care Trusts and Health Boards across the UK, which are responsible for more than 500 hospitals. The information released reveals that in 2010, 49 per cent of the complaints were relating to doctors, 29 per cent to nurses, 6 per cent about administration and 2 per cent about midwives. Of all the hospitals examined, Leicester Royal Infirmary was the one with the most complaints, receiving a total of 275.
BBC spends £500k on Apple products
BBC staff might have to face redundancies but its bosses have spent £500,000 this year alone on Apple products. According to the Sun, figures released under the freedom of information show the broadcaster’s chiefs have spent half a million of license-payers’ money in iPhones, iPads and Apple computers.
Police officers receive huge bonuses despite massive budget cuts in the force
A Mirror investigation revealed that despite widespread budget cuts, “top cops” across the UK have received bonuses that amount to £130,000 during the past year. FoIA requests showed the Chief Constable of Avon and Somerset Police, Colin Port, received £17,341 on top of his £155,000 salary, and Lincolnshire Deputy Chief Constable Neil Rhodes got £13,271 on top of his £112,000 salary.
The Ministry of Justice has just increased the scope of the FoIA to include three new bodies, its official website announced this week.
Justice Minister Lord McNally, who signed the order on November 1, said: “The public clearly deserves a Government that is open and accountable for its actions, but I strongly believe that this should also apply to any organization exercising public functions.”
According to Lord McNally, all three bodies were open to the idea of being brought under the FoIA umbrella while the government plans to invite a range of other bodies to join them.
MoJ has also announced plans of post legislative scrutiny to find out how the Act operates.
Doctors are allowed to work despite serious malpractice
Of the 102 doctors the General Medical Council wanted to erase from the register last year for malpractice, only 40 were finally struck off, as an FoIA request to the regulator reveals. The Times reports this is because these cases are examined by independent adjudication panels the GMC has no right to appeal. The doctors who remained registered include a doctor who slept with two mentally ill patients and Gideon Lauffer, a doctor the regulator recommended to be struck off after the deaths of two patients.
Scotland sees 20 per cent rise in FoIA appeals
The Herald reports a 20 per cent rise of appeals to responses to freedom of information requests during the first three months of 2011. Three-quarters of those appeals came from members of the public, whose use of the law has increased while MSPs are responsible for just 1% of the applications to the Scottish Information Commissioner.
EEAS paramedics take almost a month off sick
Members of the East of England Ambulance Service have missed 23,000 days sick since 2009, a FoIA request has revealed. The Daily Telegraph reports that this is the equivalent of all staff taking 25 days off per year. The service has paid £37.5m in overtime payments in the last four years and was the only trust in the country to fail meeting the target of answering 75 per cent of the most urgent calls within 8 minutes during July.
Commons Speaker squanders public money in lavish suits
The Daily Mail and the Sun report today on Commons Speaker John Bercow’s lavish lifestyle. Mr Bercow, who has a £146,000 salary, spent £3,700 of public money on just two suits, a FoIA request revealed, bringing his vow to restore public trust in Parliament into question.
The data will shed light on the events that resulted into the deaths of 96 Liverpool fans attending an FA Cup semi-final at Sheffield Wednesday and will include an emergency Cabinet meeting called by Margaret Thatcher, the then Prime Minister.
An independent panel is currently scrutinising the information, most of which is likely to be released next year. At the same time, as the Guardian reports, more than 100,000 people have signed an e-petition calling for “full government disclosure and publication of all documents” following a freedom of information request by the BBC.
The need of transparency is enhanced due to the smear campaign of the Sun who just four days after the disaster presented Liverpool supporters’ alleged “mass drunkness” as the cause. The news story headlined “The Truth”, also made claims about some fans urinating on police and injured fans and picking victims’ pockets as they lay on the pitch.
Although the paper did make attempts to apologise, the publication was deeply traumatising for the victims’ families, with some feeling it swayed public opinion toward believing that version of events.
Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister is backing the release of the documents: “The truth is the best antidote to people’s anger and suspicion, so we have got to get the truth out there. We are saying as a government we will give over all of the Cabinet papers. Everything that is normally the subject of Freedom of Information requests. We give it over to the panel and they can then have discussions with the families.”
Coalition’s links to lobbying under scrutiny
Government ministers meet up with corporate representatives almost two times more than charities and ten times more than union representatives, the Guardian reports. Tamasin Cave, of the lobbying transparency group Spinwatch, said the records are indicative of corporate networks of influence over government but warned they exclude the meetings held in a private capacity.
Cave’s organisation is currently engaged in a freedom of information battle with Cabinet minister Mark Harper who is supervising the coalition’s plan to introduce a lobbying registry. She alleges that Harper is resisting a FoIA request to reveal details of meeting about lobbying transparency.
Alistair Darling struggles for power over the Bank of England
A FoIA request that might reveal details of Alistair Darling’s call for legal aid to overrule Sir Mervyn King is currently under examination, as the Observer reports. According to the newspaper, Thomas Patterson, who is the chief economist of the news service, Gold Made Simple, has asked the Treasury for any documents connected to the chancellor’s call and although the request is covered by two exemptions, the ministry is weighing up the public interest in revealing the information.
Darling’s call for legal advice followed his exasperation with the governor of the Bank of England, who according to his own words “behaved like some kind of Sun King”. The final FoIA reply is expected by 1 November and will reveal important data in a time when the Bank is about to get a whole raft of new powers.
NHS cuts put sick and premature babies’ lives at risk
A survey conducted by the charity the Bliss found massive redundancies of nursing posts, freezing of vacancies and positions downgrades that would vulnerable babies’ lives at risk. The findings came after Freedom of Information requests by the charity to all neonatal units in England.
Oxford University invests in US arms manufacturer involved in cluster-bomb trade
FoIA requests submitted by the Independent revealed Oxford University has invested £630,000 in Lockheed Martin, a US defence giant with outstanding contracts to refurbish old stocks of cluster munitions.
Oxford University Endowment Management (OUEM) has also invested in other defence companies but the Lockheed deal is highly controversial because Britain has signed the Cluster Munitions Convention that bans the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of cluster bombs. Apparently the OUEM deal was closed through a loophole in the current legislation.
Council officials have a field day on taxpayer’s expense
An investigation led by the Telegraph hints to a scandal similar to that of the MPs’ expenses. This time the taxpayer-funded expenses of council officials indicate a shocking wastage by the local authorities.
The newspaper reports that more than 100 chief executives are paid more than the Prime Minister and they receive the most generous public sector pension packages in Europe. The documents were obtained after a Freedom of Information request.
The Metropolitan Police appears to have lost Lord Stevens’ diary, containing crucial information for the ongoing Leveson Inquiry into the illegal practices at Murdoch’s News International, the Telegraph and the Independent report.
According to the newspapers, the disappearance of the former Met Commissioner’s diary was revealed after a FoIA request by Ian Hurst, a core participant in the inquiry.
Hurst, a former British Army intelligence officer who used to handle IRA informers in Northern Ireland, has sued the News of the World claiming the company hired private detectives to hack into his computer and access information relating to his communication with a senior informer.
More precisely, Hurst believes Alex Marunchak, a former editor of the NOTW’s Ireland edition, had ordered the hacking of his email communication. The FoIA request filed was related to any possible meetings between two former Commissioners, Lord Stevens and Sir Ian Blair with Mr Marunchak, from to 2000 to 2011.
Although there were no recorded meetings between the NOTW editor and Sir Ian, Lord Steven’s appointments diary was nowhere to be found.
The Information Commissioner’s Office is currently investigating the missing diaries and confirms they cover the period 2000 to 2005 when Lord Stevens was head of the Met.
The Independent reports this is the first time the ICO has had to deal with such an important disappearance of publicly archived information.
Downing Street refuses Guardian’s request about Andy Coulson
The Guardian’s FoIA request to Downing Street about former News of the World editor and Conservative director of communications Andy Coulson has been refused. The request asked why Coulson was allowed to bypass standard background security checks when he was hired but Downing Street have claimed there is “no recorded information” related to the decision.
The newspaper also reports that No 10 has repeatedly refused to answer directly questions about Coulson’s role in security, military and diplomatic matters during his work in the government. The paper has appealed for an internal review of its FoIA request which is currently under way.
Dozens of pregnant soldiers leave warzones
A total of 64 female UK troops have left Afghanistan’s warzone due to pregnancy since 2003 according to figures released under the Freedom of Information Act. The Sun reports that even though there is no specific misconduct charge related to pregnancy, Ministry of Defence officials do not approve of sexual relations between UK troops.