Tag Archives: Public spending

What price freedom (of information)?

I’ve written an article on the threat to the Freedom of Information Act ahead of the conclusion of a Justice Select Committee’s inquiry.

As a reporter, freedom of information laws often offer the best route when investigating matters which are not in the public domain.

Many topics, from expenses to disciplinary procedures, are often kept private and details can be difficult to obtain. Even though FOI requests are not infallible, they are a valuable tool for every journalist, and to me it is unthinkable that the rules could be watered down.

Stories I have found through FOI requests include John Bercow’s chauffered car habit, the BBC boss who was paid off then rehired, and the council that used terror law to catch a carrot thief.

Full text is on the Telegraph website here, or read on.

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Hundreds of police stations to close

I hit the phones, alongside another Sunday Times reporter, to survey the cuts to frontline services in police forces across the country.

We found that across 30 of the 43 constabularies in England and Wales, 350 of 931 public counters at stations — 38% of the total — are to be closed in the next six months.

Full text can be found on the Sunday Times website here, or after the fold.

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Quango chiefs grab million-pound pension pots

Those in the top management levels of public bodies, including quangos, often have non-typical remuneration packages which have been negotiated as a  one-off.

Taking a boost to your pension instead of an annual bonus is a very canny approach: not only is it tax-efficient, but even a small increase to your annual pension is equivalent to a very large increase in the value of your pension pot.

A survey of national quangos for The Sunday Times revealed more than 100 civil servants to have amassed pensions worth more than £1m – that’s more than £100m of payouts for only a small handful of workers.

The £3bn annual ‘black hole’ in public sector pensions is fast becoming a major issue (see my previous briefing on Lord Hutton’s pension review), and this figure has been forecast to rise to £7bn by 2015/16.

Full text of this article is on the Sunday Times website here, or read on.

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Tackling town hall misspending

I co-wrote this 2200-word feature for the Sunday Times’ Focus section, after writing a number of news stories on local government spending as the Coalition’s cuts came into effect.

(See: ‘Councils splash out on new HQs as staff numbers are slashed‘, ‘‘Slash and burn’ councils spare pet projects‘, ‘Britain in gloom as flowers axed‘, ‘Councils pile on tax by stealth’)

Full text on the Sunday Times website here, or after the fold.

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Councils hike charges by 100% or more

Behold, my first Sunday Times splash.

This story started as a quick trawl of local councils to see if cuts to local government budgets were impacting on the cost of council services. Short answer: yes. Everything from nursery provision to cemetery fees have seen charges hiked, or introduced for the first time, in councils across the country.

Struggling to make ends meet, councils are making big asks of their residents. But while the frontline staff scrabble for funding, council chiefs are still earning vast sums.

The full story is on the Sunday Times website here, or after the fold.

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MPs profit from public purse renovations

I co-wrote this Sunday Times article about former MP Margaret Moran, who can expect to make a tidy profit on two homes which were renovated with public money. Vera Baird, Labour’s former solicitor general, has also put her newly-renovated house up for sale, but declined to tell us if she would refund the taxpaper its share.

Full text is on the Sunday Times website here, or read on.

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Order order… a taxi for Mr Speaker

Another FOI request fetched the Speaker’s entire transport itinerary for more than a year.

It revealed the Speaker and his wife to have used chauffer-driven cars hundreds of times over the last few months, including journeys within the same postcode that had racked up bills of hundreds of pounds.

Article on the Sunday Times website here, or full text below.

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The million-pound public servant

Combing through the accounts of government quangos for another story, I stumbled on this bumper paycheque at the government-owned Tote.

Full text is on the Sunday Times website here, or after the fold.

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BBC chief rehired after £365,000 payoff

This Sunday Times article is the result of an FOI request I made to the BBC, which revealed two ‘mega’ redundancy pay-outs.

One was made to the head of religion Michael Wakelin who was rehired only months later, the other went to market executive Sue Lynas, who was months from retirement. Both payments had been portrayed as cost-cutting measures.

Full text is on the Sunday Times website here, or read on.

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