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.
Police and community support officers across the country are still in service despite having criminal records for offences including burglary, causing death by careless driving, robbery, supplying drugs, domestic violence, forgery and preventing the course of justice.
More than 900 officers have been convicted of offenses according to Freedom of Information responses, The Guardian, The Independent, The Mirror, The Daily Mail, The Times and The Telegraph report. And only 32 of the 43 forces responded to the requests.
The Independent also reports officers that have broken the law include senior staff like two detective chief inspectors and one chief inspector. Most of the offences relate traffic violations like speeding and drink-driving, but some are more serious. The Telegraph reports that a Devon and Cornwall constable was convicted of burglary as a teenager and that an Essex police inspector was convicted of possessing and supplying cannabis.
The Daily Mail stresses that some of the data collected from the 32 forces refer only to the officers’ criminal record after they joined the force, so the actual figure may be higher. The Mirror reveals London’s Metropolitan Police, the largest force in Britain, as the top of the list, employing 356 officers and 41 PCSOs with convictions.
Previously released information has already showed scores of officers facing misconduct allegations have been allowed to avoid punishment by quitting.
Recession may affect freedom of information
The Information Commissioner has warned the economic recession may have devastating consequences for Data Protection and Freedom of Information. The technology website CIO reports that Christopher Graham said those dealing with information security and access to information are “under real pressure, hit by the double whammy of increasing demands for information from citizens and consumers on the one hand and reduced resourcing on the other”.
Energy firms like EDF Energy, npower and Centrica have been providing the government with employees to work on energy issues, free of charge, The Guardian reports.
Figures released after FoIA requests by Caroline Lucas, the Green party MP, show that at least 50 employees have been placed in departments for secondments of up to two years.
Lucas said: “Companies such as the big six energy firms do not lend their staff to government for nothing: they expect a certain degree of influence, insider knowledge and preferential treatment in return. At such a pivotal time in the UK’s energy and climate change policy, as ministers must get to grips with the realities of climate change, rising costs and energy insecurity, the strong presence of vested interests is a real cause for concern.”
The disclosed data reveals that since it was first founded in 2008, the Department of Energy and Climate Change has hosted 36 people from business or consultancies, including EDF, Centrica, oil company ConocoPhillips, lobby group the UK Petroleum Industry Association and Energy Solutions, and a US nuclear waste treatment company.
The Guardian reports that staff from the energy business have also been appointed to positions in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
The FoIA revelations also included the number of times Decc officials have been meeting with energy industry representatives. In total, Decc’s ministers met with energy companies and their lobby groups 195 times and just 17 with green campaign groups.
Oxford ‘scouts’ get less than the minimum wage
A Freedom of Information investigation by student journalists has revealed that while Oxford is one of the wealthiest universities in the world, many of its cleaning staff –also known as “scouts”- are paid less than £7.20 an hour. The Guardian reports that one of the worst offenders is St John’s, that pays its cleaners £6.49 an hour.
Reckless drivers are being let back on the street
The Western Mail reports that more than 58,000 motorists with multiple drink-driving convictions are being allowed to get back behind the wheel. The data released under the Freedom of Information Act show that one driver from Carmarthenshire is back driving after being disqualified over six times for driving above the limit.
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.