The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) has given the MPs special dispensation to claim higher expenses to rent bigger properties and to pay for their children’s travel.
The rules were relaxed in 2011 following lobbying from MPs who can now claim thousands of pounds extra for each child they register with the expenses regulator.
Under freedom of information laws, Ipsa has disclosed that a total of 148 MPs, with 300 children between them, have formally registered their “dependants” so they can claim expenses associated with their accommodation and travel. Read more
Holly Watt, Claire Newell & Charles Young | The Daily Telegraph | 4th July 2013
House of Commons Speaker John Bercow has charged nearly £100,000 for taxi rides and trips around the world, documents reveal.
The money paid for visits to nearly 20 countries, as well as trips to have his portrait painted and a short journey to tour the offices of the MPs’ expenses watchdog.
Details of the Speaker’s travel costs since the general in May 2010 were disclosed under Freedom of Information laws. Read more
Christopher Hope | The Daily Telegraph | 4th July 2013
Post Office executives and managers are being paid £15.4million in bonuses – as many sub-postmasters see their incomes slashed.
More than £2million was shared between just nine top executives and senior managers, including Paula Vennells, chief executive of the state-owned postal service, who earns £463,000 a year.
The other £13million went to managers and staff. The National Federation of Sub-Postmasters, which obtained the figures for 2012/2013 under a Freedom of Information request, condemned the payments as a “kick in the teeth” for its members and called for an urgent review of the bonus system. Read more
Stephen Hayward | The Daily Mail | 30th June 2013
The Department for Education this year approved only one in five applications to open Islamic and Hindu faith schools as part of the government’s flagship free schools programme, while accepting applications from two out of three mainstream Christian faith schools, based on analysis of data released under a freedom of information request.
The data also showed that the DfE accepted only 102 entrants from 263 applications to open free schools from September 2014, in the fourth wave of free school openings since the policy was launched by the education secretary, Michael Gove.
A comparison of the failed and successful applications showed that efforts to start 18 Islamic faith schools were rejected by the DfE, while six were accepted. Read more
Richard Adams | The Guardian | 28th June 2013
The Care Quality Commission, which has come under fire for its behaviour over the scandal at University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Trust’s maternity unit, spent nearly £17 million of taxpayers’ money in redundancy payments for as many as 400 staff in the past four years.
Of these, at least 20 were bound by secrecy orders preventing them from speaking publicly about the failings of the organisation.
The figures, obtained by The Sunday Telegraph through freedom of information legislation, will confirm the fears of critics that the CQC spent millions disbanding teams of expert inspectors, who were trained in assessing the performance of specific departments and disciplines, and replaced them with generic inspectors who had little expertise in the fields they were examining. Read more
The financial fallout due to Metropolitan Police officers ramming down doors at wrong addresses to carry out police raids has come to light for the first time.
With officers having to get tough in smashing their way through to a potential suspect’s home many thousands of times a year, red-faced coppers have had to pay out hundreds of times each year for barging into the wrong address.
Official figures indicate that the Met was deluged with roughly a thousand claims each year from 2010-2012, receiving 1,109 claims of “wrongful forced entry” in 2010/2011. However, this figure decreased over the following years to 959 in 2011/2012 and finally 931 in 2012/2013.
The findings have been disclosed by the Metropolitan Police after a Freedom of Information Request from LondonlovesBusiness.com. Read more.
Asa Bennett | London Loves Business | 29th May 2013
A Freedom of Information request by The Daily Telegraph also shows that three Ambassadors currently based in the Middle East and North Africa speak no Arabic at all.
The remaining seven have sufficient grasp of the language to be able to handle “routine everyday” matters, but would have difficulty with official business.
Concerns have been raised about the linguistic skills of British diplomats, particularly since David Miliband, then Foreign Secretary, closed the Foreign Office Language School in 2007. The last government also dropped language ability from the criteria for promotion to senior grades.
Today, the British Ambassadors in Sudan, Qatar and Algeria speak no Arabic at all. Those in Bahrain and Morocco, meanwhile, are below the lowest possible grade for Arabic, known as “A2″. Read more.
David Blair | The Telegraph | 31st May 2013
A 12-year-oldgirl was shot by police with a 50,000-volt Taser. The girl, who was brandishing two knives and threatening to harm herself, was one of more than 20 children shot by officers using the electric stun guns, figures show.
Police said the Taser was used to detain the girl and ‘prevent serious harm to both her, the public and the officers’ after she began behaving ‘aggressively’ in St Helens, Merseyside, in July 2011.
The schoolgirl was one of more than 20 children stunned with the weapons in the past three years, according to figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. Read more.
James Drummond | The Daily Mail | 3rd June 2013
MORE than £340,000 worth of cannabis was taken off the streets of the borough in 2012, figures have revealed.
Statistics released to the under the Freedom of Information Act also show the number of cannabis farms being discovered by police has risen by more than one-third since 2011.
In 2012, 31 cannabis cultivations worth £340,290 were found in the borough – an increase of 32 per cent from the 21 farms uncovered the year before.
In 2011, the farms police unearthed were also smaller, with their total value estimated at £139,670 — less than half 2012’s total. Read more.
Tui Benjamin | Bury Times| 31st May 2013
ONE child sex attack was reported every 20 minutes last year, police figures out today show.
About 23,000 children were reported victims in England and Wales during 2010/11 but fewer than 10 per cent of cases ended in a conviction.
There were 4,973 alleged victims aged ten and under, including 1,472 younger than six. And six times as many reported offences were committed against girls as against boys.
More than a third of all sex crimes reported were against children.
The statistics, obtained by the NSPCC in a freedom of information request, cover rape, incest and child prostitution. The charity said a major effort was needed to protect children and boost conviction rates.
Read more here.
The Daily Mail | 4th April 2012
The Guardian’s court victory is an important step towards transparency
The court of appeal today took a bold step forward in advancing court transparency. The decision in Guardian News and Media Ltd v City of Westminster Magistrates Court established in common law for the first time the right of ordinary people and the media to obtain documents that are used in court cases.
It has been a long time coming. The UK has undergone a transparency revolution over the past 10 years. The Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) has forced over 100,000 government bodies to make the information that they collect and use in daily actions available on request to the public. Recent government initiatives have made the expenditures of government bodies and local governments available online. Parliamentary bills, reports and proceedings are available online quickly.
Read more here.
David Banisar | The Guardian | 3rd April 2012
£83 million backlog of repairs at Warwickshire schools
WARWICKSHIRE schools have a staggering £83 million backlog of repairs.
Warwickshire County Council bosses estimated the cost of getting all the county’s schools up to a reasonable standard of repair.
The figures were uncovered by the Telegraph under the Freedom of Information Act.
It comes after Coventry education bosses admitted it would take a staggering 100 years to rebuild the city’s crumbling schools if they continued at the current rate
Read more here.
Lucy Lynch | Coventry Telegraph | 3rd April 2012
£30,000 owed by overseas patients
SCARBOROUGH’S NHS Trust is owed more than £30,000 in hospital bills, racked up by overseas patients not entitled to free treatment.
The figures, obtained via a Freedom of Information request to Scarborough and North East Yorkshire Healthcare NHS Trust, show that since February 2009, £33,229.41 has either been written off or is currently being chased by the Trust.
The numbers include £10,297 that the trust is still chasing from a Syrian patient who underwent treatment in May 2010.
Read more here.
Scarborough Evening News | 2nd April 2012
NHS trusts have spent more than a billion pounds a year on temporary clinical staff since 2009, the Telegraph reports. Staff shortages in hospitals are blamed on the European Working Time Directive, which introduced a maximum 48-hour-week in Aug 2009, and has allegedly led to billion of pounds being spent on agency doctors.
In total, 83 out of 164 hospital trusts responded to Freedom of Information requests about the sum they spent on temporary doctors, nurses and other clinical staff, showing £1.03 billion was spent in 2010-11 and £1.05 billion the year before. 28 hospital trusts admitted spending more than £1,000 a day to hire individual doctors and nurses via agencies since April 2009.
North Cumbria University Hospitals paid £20,000 for a doctor who worked 56 hours in shifts and 112 on call in one week. Christie foundation trust paid £11,029 for a haematologist for 48 hours work over six days. Mid Staffordshire foundation trust paid £5,667 for a doctor who worked a 24 hour shift in A & E.
Irish Foreign Affairs Staff Fork out €1,000 a Week on Wine Last year.
The Irish Department of Foreign Affairs spent more than €50,000 on wine in 2011 according to a freedom of information disclosure, reports the Irish Times. Compared to 2010, Ireland’s taxpayers faced a four-fold increase on annual spending by the Department of Foreign Affairs on wine.
In total, almost €200,000 has been spent on wine since 2005 with the stored stock having cost €81,917 at the turn of last year. The increase has been attributed to visits by Queen Elizabeth and President Barack Obama as well as last year’s Presidential election. But Fianna Fail’s spokesman for foreign affairs said the news would offend the public. The spokesman said: “Members of the public who have had wage cuts and are struggling to pay their mortgages at the moment will be offended by this.”
Cambridge Colleges ask government to be exempt form Freedom of Information Act
Colleges at the University of Cambridge have asked government for exemption from the Freedom of Information Act (FoIA), the Cambridge Student reports.
In a request to the Justice Committee, Cambridge University’s colleges argued that FoIA leads to undesirable and unnecessary costs. Richard Taylor, however, from the website WhatDoTheyKnow.com has criticised the colleges’ demands, warning: “If colleges were exempt from FOI [Freedom of information], this would dent the ability of students – their members – to effectively hold them to account… both the university and the colleges ought to remain subject to FOI.”
The Information Commissioner Christopher Graham has said that claims by senior figures that Freedom of Information legislation damages governmental operation are in contradiction with their supposed commitment to transparency and openness, report the Telegraph.
Graham further warned that the government’s “grudging approach” to the FoIA could lead junior civil servants into ‘bad behaviour’, such as using private email accounts or not writing important details down, in order to avoid potentially releasing information to the public. Furthermore, Graham warned “enthusiastic special advisers” that they risk prosecution if they deliberately try to avoid the disclosure of government business.
Last week Prime Minister David Cameron insisted that FoIA “furs up” the arteries of government. Graham, however, claims the concerns that FoIA is having a “chilling effect” on government are “greatly overdone”, as there are legitimate ways in which Cabinet minutes, for instance, can be kept secret.
Graham concluded: “The Freedom of Information Act is always going to be troublesome but it’s troublesome in a good cause.”
Obama supports new category of secret government files
Obama’s “most transparent administration in history” wants to create a new exemption in the US FoIA to keep secret information on “cybersecurity, critical U.S. computer networks, industrial plants, pipelines and more”, reports the Salt Lake Tribune.
Malanie Ann Pustay, the director of the Justice Department’s office of information policy, has claimed existing laws cannot adequately protect such secrets. But the US FoIA already has exemptions to protect, for instance, national security, personal privacy, business secrets and decision-making processes.
Open government advocates urged lawmakers to proceed carefully. Kenneth F. Bunting, executive director of the National Freedom of Information Coalition of Columbia, stated: “Protections against threats we might face as a nation need not and should not include carte blanche authority for the government to withhold information under an exceedingly broad and ill-defined rubric”.
Business has reportedly been seeking such an exemption more than 10 years.
Regional development agencies (RDA) handed out £2.16m to their staff despite the fact the Coalition had already announced they would be scrapped, The Telegraph reports.
Figures released under the FoIA to Tory MP Jake Berry revealed 2,026 staff from nine RDAs received bonuses since May 2010, while their abolition was announced just the following month.
The Telegraph reports that the average bonus over the 18 months that have passed was £2,000 each, with the largest sum, £466,000, paid to 355 staff at the London Development Agency.
Mr Berry said: “No one should be rewarded for failure and these RDA bureaucrats should be forced to pay back these excessive bonuses.”
The Telegraph quotes a spokesman for the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, who said: “RDAs pay their staff in accordance with the public sector pay remits issued annually by HM Treasury and in accordance with contractual terms agreed with staff.”
The agencies, which were created by the Labour Government through the Regional Development Agencies Act in 1998, have been criticised for failing to close regional divides and creating a layer of bureaucracy that stifled enterprise.
Cuts endanger Scotland’s environmental health
The Herald warns that Scotland’s ability to cope with large-scale outbreaks of deadly diseases will be compromised due to cuts to council budgets. Figures obtained by the Royal Environmental Institute of Scotland (REHIS) under the FoIA show that the number of Environmental Health Officers (EHOs) employed by Scottish local authorities fell from 556 in March 2009 to 506 in September last year.
Families get monthly £6,000 housing benefit
Data released under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that over 100 families are receiving housing benefits of up to £6,000 a month to live in luxury homes, the Daily Mail reports.
Health campaigners are fighting calls for lowering the cost limit of a FoIA request, The Telegraph reports.
As it stands, public authorities, including health trusts can only charge requesters if the cost of a reply exceeds £450. But the Foundation Trust Network wants to bring that down, raising serious questions about the safety of patients and accountability of trusts.
Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association, said: “This move could make it prohibitively expensive to obtain information through FOIs, which would not be in the interests of accountability of transparency.”
The FTN revealed its intentions during its submission to the recent inquiry into how the Freedom of Information Act is working. Its submission noted that the average cost of dealing with a request was £500, so bringing down the threshold would result in only the simplest and requests answered for free.
Ken Lownds, of the group Cure the NHS, set up in the wake of the nursing scandal at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, said: “It is already an absolute nightmare for patients or loved-ones to get information. This is designed to make it even more difficult. It is totally unacceptable.”
Thousands without a home in Oxford
Oxford council spent over £65,000 for emergency accommodation of people in danger of homelessness in 2011, the BBC reports. A Freedom of Information investigation has revealed the bill was four times as much as it was in 2010 and 6,000 people remain in the council’s housing waiting list.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne has spent over £30,000 of taxpayers’ money for the redecoration his flat at Number 10 and 11 Downing Street, The Mirror, The Telegraph and The Independent have reported.
Following FoIA requests to the Treasury, it was revealed £32,651 have been spent for improvements in the year starting in April 2010, just before the coalition came to power.
The news follows the public outcry of David Cameron spending £60,000 in refurbishing his flat above Number 11, with half of that amount coming out of the public purse.
The Independent quotes the Labour MP Tom Watson who said: “The government is asking hundreds of thousands of council tenants to forgo work on their homes because of the cuts. George Osborn should take a leadership position and he clearly has not.”
The Mirror reports that a Treasury spokesman said Number 11 Downing Street is a Grade I-listed building and the Government has an obligation to maintain it to an am appropriate standard.
Welfare reform narrative may victimize the disabled
The coalition’s “scoungers” welfare reform narrative about disabled people has jeopardised the safety of disabled people, charities have warned as The Western Mail reports. A Freedom of Information request to South Wales Police showed there were 392 incidents of hate crimes against disabled people where prejudice might have been a factor.
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.