Burton Mail uses FoI Act to uncover food scandal

By Sarah Lagan

An evening paper’s chief reporter using the Freedom of Information
Act has uncovered a series of supermarket and food outlet hygiene
scandals.

David Powles of the Burton Mail was aware that a supermarket was in
court for serious breaches of hygiene and applied under the new FoI Act
to both local councils in the paper’s patch for details on any other
food violations since 2003.

The reply outlined findings against a
variety of outlets – including mouse infestations and lack of
cleanliness by staff – that would not usually be disclosed by the
council and brought into the public domain.

The Mail ran the
court case as a page lead and two days later ran the story based on the
FoI request as a splash with a two-page investigative background piece.
This showed all the premises in the area that had flouted food hygiene
standards as well as interviews with the environmental health team at
the council about the work they do to identify and clean up rogue
outlets.

Powles said: “It highlighted just how useful the act can
be and also the fact that it can be used to help build up indepth
background pieces to things such as court cases.

“Press Gazette
has been very helpful to me as I tried to gain understanding of the act
and also to see what other newspapers are looking into. I wondered if
this request may help other journalists looking for ways of using the
FoI Act. I personally think the act can be a great tool for
journalists.”

Powles is trying to identify at least one request a week to put in, in the hope of getting a steady stream of stories from them.

The latest FoI request is one of five requests the Mail has put in since the implementation of the act in January this year.

Others
include requests for information about school expulsion rates and
alternative proposals for a controversial council-funded piece of
artwork.

Freedom on Information 2

KENT MESSENGER EXAMINES COUNCIL’S FOREIGN TRIPS

The Kent Messenger has used the Freedom of Information Act to reveal
how councillors have spent thousands of pounds of public money on
foreign trips, writes Dominic Ponsford.

Political editor Paul Francis used the Act to reveal that
councillors had made dozens of previously undisclosed trips to America
and Europe in the last two years.

The information provided by
Kent County Council produced enough material for two lengthy
backgrounders about the foreign jaunts of councillors, mainly from
KCC’s Conservative cabinet.

One trip to Seattle consisted of 20
councillors, education officials and headteachers, attending a
conference organised by Microsoft at a cost of £30,000.

A nine-day “fact-finding” mission to San Francisco by education members and officials cost more than £9,000.

Francis
said: “Globe-trotting by councillors is sometimes seen as something all
councils do these days, but even I was a bit taken aback when I saw
just how many trips there were.

“KCC mounted a staunch defence of
why so many were made and pointed to rewards in terms of inward
investment. It did beg the question as to why it had not been proactive
in putting this information into the public domain before getting a
request.”

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