Archive for the ‘YRTK’ Category

Access your council accounts

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011

For 20 days in June, July or August, every council is legally required to open up its draft accounts for public inspection. Under the Audit Commission Act 1988 you have a legal right to see detailed contracts, invoices, receipts, books and bills, the right to make copies and the right to raise other points of interest with the auditor. This is one of the most powerful rights citizens in the UK have to uncover the nitty gritty details of how public bodies are spending public money.

Chances are if you rock up to your council office you may be the first one to do so in years. But don’t be put off. You have every right to be there and too few citizens make the effort to hold local councils accountable for the money they spend in the public’s name. Certainly as local newspapers disappear it could be that the local nosey parker is all that stands in the way of a corruption scandal continuing undetected for years.

You can find out when your local council (or police authority) holds its inspection period here. From March 2011, it is a legal requirement for English councils to advertise the public inspection details on their websites. About a third of councils did so in previous years. The very tenacious Richard Orange who runs the Orchard News Bureau rates each council for the transparency with which it informs the public of this important access right.

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Council name Start date End date
North East Derbyshire District Council Thursday, July 07, 2011 Wednesday, August 03, 2011
Blaby District Council Friday, July 08, 2011 Thursday, August 04, 2011
Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council Friday, July 08, 2011 Thursday, August 04, 2011
Dover District Council Friday, July 08, 2011 Thursday, August 04, 2011
Thanet District Council Friday, July 08, 2011 Thursday, August 04, 2011
London Borough of Bexley Monday, July 11, 2011 Friday, August 05, 2011
Bolsover District Council Monday, July 11, 2011 Friday, August 05, 2011
Boston Borough Council Monday, July 11, 2011 Friday, August 05, 2011
Calderdale Metropolitan Borough Council Monday, July 11, 2011 Friday, August 05, 2011
Cambridge City Council Monday, July 11, 2011 Friday, August 05, 2011
Canterbury City Council Monday, July 11, 2011 Friday, August 05, 2011
Charnwood Borough Council Monday, July 11, 2011 Friday, August 05, 2011
Chichester District Council Monday, July 11, 2011 Friday, August 05, 2011

Bad-mouthing FOI

Friday, January 29th, 2010

I notice the naysayers are peeping their heads over the parapet again. I’m serving notice that any public servants moaning about having to account to the public under the Freedom of Information had better be prepared to undergo some intense investigation on their spending. I’ll be keeping my eye out for any FOI bad-mouthers in the future and if you know of any please do let me know.

Perhaps these public servants hope that enough dust has settled from the MPs’ expenses scandal. Let’s remember that it was in secrecy that this massive abuse of public funds was allowed to operate. Transparency was finally acknowledged as the single best cure for preventing corruption. But now some officials are trying to bad-mouth FOI and go back to the old ways. I’ve seen claims that FOI is a waste of public money, that it diverts from the serious business of bureaucracy, that it might even be jeopardizing police investigations. All this is nonsense. FOI is the single best regulator of efficiency and probity. It’s certainly cheaper and more effective than the hundreds of regulators currently in operation.

Yet here’s the latest FOI gripe from Chief Constable Ian Latimer of Northern Constabulary in Scotland: He claims that the number of people making FOI requests is going up.

“There is concern that additional funding will be required to support this business area in 2009-10, diverting resources away from operational policing.”

Firstly, isn’t citizen involvement precisely what our leaders claim to want? Now they have it – and they’re moaning. Turns out they don’t actually want the public asking challenging questions about who does what, whay, and for how much.

On the matter of funding – let me remind readers of the vast amounts of cash police forces are spending on Public Relations (i.e. propaganda) departments. Re-read the investigation I did for the Times on police PR spending. We found that police forces across the UK were spending £39m each year on press and PR – enough to fund an extra 1,400 full time officers and more than enough to cover the annual police pay rise withheld by the Government. The ratio of PR to FOI officers was also striking; many forces having 12 PR people for every one FOI person (that’s them telling us what they want us to know as opposed to actually answering our questions).

New Contact Details for Food Standards Agency

Thursday, October 2nd, 2008

Steven Johnson has finished his post as FOI officer at the Food Standards Agency.

He has been replaced by:

Rosalie Ashtani
0207 7276 8632
rosalie.ashtani@foodstandardsagency.gsi.gov.uk

New info on farmers’ subsidies

Thursday, November 15th, 2007

The amount of state aid given to each farmer for looking after landscape and wildlife is be made public for the first time according to an article in today’s Times. The article states the information is to be released today on the website of the Government’s landscape adviser Natural England. The information is to be added to the webpage for agri-environment schemes.

Sir Martin Doughty, chairman of Natural England, announced the new transparency in an interview with The Times.

Sir Martin says that taxpayers have a right to know how their money is being spent in the countryside. About £1.7 billion is paid to English farmers under the CAP, the bulk of it in farm support. About £320 million is allocated for green farming schemes and is paid to about 32,000 farmers, roughly a third of the total.

Apparently, users will be able to type in the name of a village, parish or postcode and find out which farmers in the area have signed up to environmental stewardship schemes and the cash received. The website will also provide a list of environmental work agreed to by the farmer. There may also be a feedback section where people can report on what farmers are doing.

New Contact Details: DEFRA

Wednesday, December 13th, 2006

Clive Porro

Access to Information Unit

Departmant for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

3-8 Whitehall Place

London SW1A 2HH

Clive.porro@defra.gsi.gov

Tel: 020 7270 8883

Email: accesstoinfo@defra.gsi.gov.uk

List of FOI officers for US Government

Friday, April 21st, 2006

Anyone can make an FOIA request to the American federal government; you don’t need to be a citizen or even living in the country. Journalists in the UK still often use the American law to get information about the UK such as clinical trial results on pharmaceutical drugs (from the Federal Drug Administration) or oceanography data that is expensive here but free in the US (from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration).

The Center for Public Integrity has a useful FOI section that explains how to make an American FOI request with a directory of most of the major government agencies and departments.

British Transport Police FOI contact

Friday, March 24th, 2006

New details for making FOI requests to British Transport Police:

Freedom of Information Manager
25 Camden Road
London, NW1 9LN

Or you can make a request online using the feedback form.

British Transport Police cover the national railways, London Underground, Docklands Light Railway, the Midland Metro Tram System and Croydon Tramlink.

Second edition of YRTK: Call for input

Monday, January 30th, 2006

A second edition of Your Right to Know is in the works, and I am keen to hear from any readers about improvements that can be made to make this next edition even better and more comprehensive. I will most likely be including an additional chapter on decisions made by the Information Commissioner and Information Tribunal and the way the law has been used in practice. I will also provide more detail about what is happening in Scotland. What else would you like to see?

  • Do you have any problems using the book?
  • Is there something you want to know that wasn’t addressed?
  • Have you found any changes to the FOI contact details listed in the book?

I’d particularly like to hear from anyone who has made requests under the Freedom of Information or Environmental Information Regulations. What was your experience? How would you rate the public authority’s response? Were they helpful and professional or obstructive and delaying?

You can either post your comments here or email me. Many thanks!

Dept for Transport: new contact details

Friday, December 16th, 2005

The Department for Transport has changed the email for inbound requests; it is now
foi-advice@dft.gsi.gov.uk
or you can use the online request form at
http://www.dft.gov.uk/stellent/groups/dft_foi/documents/page/dft_foi_033691.hcsp

The FOI Officer remains the same but with a new title:

Mike Carty
Information Rights Unit Branch Head
Information & Better Regulation Division
Department for Transport
Zone 9/2 Southside
105 Victoria Street
LONDON SW1E 6DT
0207 944 5825 / GTN 3533 5825

Update: HMSO changes name

Wednesday, August 24th, 2005

The Office of Public Sector Information (OPSI) is the new name for Her Majesty’s Stationery Office. Its function is still much the same as before, though now rather than just restrictively enforcing Crown Copyright, the stated aim is “providing a practical framework of best practice for opening up and encouraging the re-use of public sector information.” As such it has the lead for the UK implementation of the Re-use of Public Sector Information Regulations which came into force on 1 July 2005.

Of course, the simplest and best way to maximise use and reuse of public sector information would be to abolish the feudal Crown Copyright laws. Such a freewheeling system operates in the United States of America and that is why the USA is the leading creator of information databases globally. Europeans complain about the American hegemony of online information (Google, Medline, Edubase, Lexis Nexis, Westlaw, various mapping databases) but then fail utterly to implement the kind of public copyright system that leads to the creation of such databases. Instead we have the weasley EU Directive on Public Sector Information.

This will not help public interest websites in the UK who must still pay extortionate rates to access OS maps or land registers – all information created and compiled by what are, ultimately, public bodies funded by taxpayers’ money. Public interest websites such as Up My Street or Write To Them have to beg and plead for public information and almost build their sites illegally because the government is so intent on making a few quick bucks at the expense of greater public good and overall economic growth.