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Act spawns hundreds of regional press scoops

A new report has highlighted the value of the Freedom of Information Act to regional papers, listing hundreds of scoops that have been secured via the legislation.

The 283-page report by the Campaign for Freedom of Information says more than 1,000 national and regional newspaper stories have been published in the UK over the past two years based on disclosures made under the Act.

Campaigners are seeing the report as proof of the value of the legislation in the wake of the furore over government plans to restrict its use.

Two years ago the Government attempted to impose restrictions on the use of the Act, arguing that journalists were making excessive use of it, and that a large number of requests for information were trivial – but Gordon Brown dropped those proposals after he became Prime Minister.

Regional press stories obtained via the Act which are listed in the report include:

  • West Country schools paid out £2m over the last five years to get rid of poorly performing teachers (Western Morning News).

  • More than 200 licenced taxi drivers in Aberdeen have criminal records (Aberdeen Press and Journal).

  • One in three secondary school pupils in Cardiff taken on holiday during term time because parents cannot afford August prices (South Wales Echo).

  • Almost 30 serving police officers in Northern Ireland accused of criminal offences since 2004. (Belfast Telegraph).

  • Staff face axe after audit reveals school has debts of £628,000 (Mansfield Chad).

  • Seven teachers suspended and one dismissed following complaints of misconduct against other staff in North Lincolnshire since 2003. (Scunthorpe Evening News).

    “The stories demonstrate the enormous range of information being released under FOI. They reveal the substantial contribution to accountability made by the FOI Act,” says the report.

    “The disclosures also cast new light on the government’s approach to many issues, as well as identifying shortcomings in public service delivery, highlighting other problems which had not been addressed, and illustrating where policies had succeeded.”


    Marjorie Loquet (07/10/2008 10:29:42)
    With regards to this subject FOI I hope that Journalists will realise that there are some things which require commonsense with regards to when it is released.
    But add this to your list. Beg to ask the question, if we are not obtaining the medical help we require, when required is it not within our rights to withhold payment to the NHS? Aren’t our rights being contravened just to save money. When you look at the transcript of when the NHS was set up in 1947 it gave everyone the right to medical help. The hypocratic oath etc. Yet again, this is a service we are paying for which we are not receiving.

    Tim Cowen (07/10/2008 10:33:23)
    I trust the report mentions how much the FOi service costs the taxpayer – in terms of full time officers having to be employed by lots of public authorities to deal with the huge rise in inquiries, much of it from “fishing trips” by reporters.
    I work for the UK’s biggest supplier of Civil Enforcement Officers (formerly parking attendants) so we understand that the public and the media are interested in what we do. But I still get annoyed by stories claiming to be “exclusive” or using phrases like “an investigation has revealed” when the information therein could have been gleaned with a simple phone call.
    The problem, furthermore, with indiscriminate use of FOI is that can sometimes give information out of context – the revelation mentioned above about police officers being accused of criminal offences being a case in point. Police officers spend their days arresting villinas – villains with a propensity to lie and cheat, so it is hardly surprising that police officers will be accused of crimes.
    Surely the real story is how many are convicted? And you wouldn’t need FOI to find that out. Just pop down to the local magistrates or crown court, like journalists used to in my day.
    I think FOI has a part to play – but I think that the rules should change so that “professional inquiriers” such as journalists should be able to demonstrate that the information they are seeking is not available through normal journalistic channels – ie ringing up people like me and asking them questions.

    marc meneaud (07/10/2008 17:46:17)
    It is nice to hear that, should a journalist ring you up and ask you questions, you will be quite prepared to answer them. You are one of the few. Councils, police forces and other public authorities spend tens of millions every year paying professionals to control the flow of information to journalists.
    You are quite correct that this information should be available through the “normal journalistic channels” but, unfortunately that is no longer the case. A good example of this is a recent Oxford Mail investigation into how many crimes were committed in the force area.
    The paper carried out a four-week study which showed that police released information or appealed for witnesses 22 times.
    But when an FOI request was put in, the force admitted officers were actually called 6,636 times. Revealing, wouldn’t you agree?