THE UK'S Freedom of Information law is a powerful research tool.

Since the year 2000, public bodies across the UK - including those in Cumbria - have been obliged to respond to legitimate requests for information, provided the cost of giving the answer does not exceed agreed costs - £450 in the case of local authorities and £600 for central Government agencies.

So what kind of information has this law helped to unearth in Cumbria?

We trawled through some recent FOI answers (all currently available in online disclosure logs) and many provide fascinating insights into Cumbrian life.


The NHS trust which runs The Cumberland Infirmary in Carlisle and West Cumberland Hospital in Whitehaven frequently gets FOI requests. The many issues involved in questions include the increasing use of A&E services by people struggling with their mental health.

One request about people arriving at the A&E department because of their mental health and the answer reveals a steady increase in recent years.

The figures reveal the recent scale of this:

• 2020: 1,513 patients (150 for deliberate self-harm; 235 because of mental health symptoms; and 1,128 for poisoning or overdose).

• 2019: 1,577 patients (177 for self-harm; 300 for mental health symptoms; and 1,100 for poisoning or overdose).

• 2018: 1,472 patients (160 for self-harm; 290 for mental health symptoms; and 1,022 for poisoning or overdose).

The trust was also asked about assaults on staff - and the answer shows that hundreds of staff have suffered violence merely for doing their job.

The staff assault figures were as follows:

• 2018/19: 109 (52 with injury)

• 2019/20: 222 (81 with injury)

• 2020/21: 334. (110 with injury).

In June, another questioner asked the trust to reveal its spending on external law firms? The answer stated that in 2020 to 2021, the total spend on this was £789,307. What legal services were provided was not stated.

News and Star: Information: One FOI request highlights how often staff at The Cumberland Infirmary and West Cumberland Hospital in Whitehaven have been assaulted.Information: One FOI request highlights how often staff at The Cumberland Infirmary and West Cumberland Hospital in Whitehaven have been assaulted.

Another FOI request – also submitted in June - asked how many staff the NHS trust employs. The answer: 816 doctors, 2,122 nurses; 1,271 nursing assistants; 80 porters; 173 cleaners; 221 physiotherapists; 134 occupational therapists; four social workers, and 1,588 administrative staff.

The trust also confirmed that it has 1,625 dedicated staff parking bays and that staff are not currently being charged for parking.

Carlisle City Council

Some people may not be surprised by an answer to one request sent to Carlisle City Council. The question was about how many people have benefitted from the Council Tax Reduction Scheme (a commonly claimed benefit).

The figure peaked in 2018, when 7,973 people in the city claimed this benefit.

Since then the figure has remained close to this year’s figure – 7,657.

The same local authority also revealed how Carlisle deals with its dead: the figures provided show an overwhelming preference for cremation, with this method of disposal ten times more popular than burial. In 2020, there 1,700 burials in the city compared to 172 burials.

Carlisle City Council also recently provided statistics on how many people are officially registered as homeless within the city's local authority area.

In 2020, the figure was 292 – the highest recorded since 2010 when the figure was 228. In 2018, the city’s official homeless figure was 61. The highest figure recorded before this year was in 2019, with 246 registered homeless, though this was in 2011.

News and Star: Homeless: Councils across Cumbria record figures on homelessness and rough-sleeping.Homeless: Councils across Cumbria record figures on homelessness and rough-sleeping.

By contrast, the number of “rough sleepers” recorded was 1, down from 5 in 2019, and 3 in 2018.

Cumbria Police

Cumbria Police has also provided fascinating information about crime trends – including the number of people committing speeding offences and also the serious crime of dangerous driving.

According to the force’s answer, in 2020, there were 25,365 people caught speeding in the county – mostly for exceeding the limit in 40mph zones. In 2019, the figure was even higher. In that year, 31,879 motorists were caught flouting the speed limit.

Of these, 4,284 broke the 70mph limit on the motorway or a dual carriageway, compared to 1,076 who broke the law that way in Cumbria last year.

Perhaps more worrying are the figures for drink driving arrests in Cumbria – almost 1,000 in two years. In 2019, 533 drivers were arrested on suspicion of that offence. The following year, the figure was 418.

In 2019, 95 people were arrested in the county for dangerous driving, while the figure for last year was 90 arrests for this offence. In the same two years, 97 motorists in the county were arrested for careless driving.

The force has also provided figures on vehicle seizures.

In 2019, it seized 3,065 vehicles. Most commonly, this was because the vehicle was involved in a collision (in 1,098 cases in 2019 and in 914 cases last year). Last year, 660 vehicles were seized in the county because they were uninsured.

Other reasons for seizure included breakdowns, antisocial vehicle use, and the vehicle being abandoned or stolen. Around 250 vehicles were also seized in each of the last two years as part of investigations.

Cumbria Police also provided information about people arrested and – in some cases – prosecuted for using “coercive and controlling behaviour in an intimate family relationship.”

In 2019, the police investigated 130 cases, and of these 7 were charged and 122 suspects were released with no further action. Last year, 165 people were investigated for this offence, with 13 charged, with 124 facing no further action.

Cumbria County Council

Cumbria County Council is yet another source of useful FOI information.

One recent answer furnishes evidence of what climate change scientists say will continue to increase as global temperatures rise. Figures show a sharp rise in 'wildfires' across Cumbria, up from 20 in 2016 to 45 in 2018.

The authority also regularly provides information about potholes.

In east Cumbria, in the 2019/20 Finance Year, 11,870 defects were recorded in Carlisle, including 2,434 carriageway defects.

In Eden, over the same period, there were 3,500 defects recorded, 1,639 were on carriageways.

News and Star: Issue: Potholes are a frequent issue mentioned in FOI requests.Issue: Potholes are a frequent issue mentioned in FOI requests.

How much was spent on repairing these problems?

Over the same period, the Carlisle Local Committee allocated £773,000 to highway maintenance. The same Local Committee also allocated £421,000 for fixing reported defects, with an allocation of £296,907 provided to the Carlisle district specifically for fixing potholes.

In Eden approx. £700,000 was allocated to minor carriageway repairs and general highway defects,including potholes. There was £336,000 specifically for pothole repairs.