Tag Archives: policy

Local Council Announcements via Newspapers, and Maybe Hyperlocal Blogs, Too…?

In a post on local council declarations of designated public place, I remarked on the following clause in The Local Authorities (Alcohol Consumption in Designated Public Places) Regulations 2007:

“5. Before making an order, a local authority shall cause to be published in a newspaper circulating in its area a notice— (a)identifying specifically or by description the place proposed to be identified;“

and idly wondered: how is a “newspaper circulating in its area” defined?

In Statutory Instrument 2012 No. 2089, The Local Authorities (Executive Arrangements) (Meetings and Access to Information) (England) Regulations 2012, which comes into force on September 10th, 2012, there is the following note on interpretations to be used within the regulations:

“newspaper” includes—
(a) a news agency which systematically carries on the business of selling and supplying reports or information to the newspapers; and
(b) any organisation which is systematically engaged in collecting news—
(i) for sound or television broadcasts;
(ii) for inclusion in programmes to be included in any programme service within the meaning of the Broadcasting Act 1990(6) other than a sound or television broadcasting service within the meaning of Part 3 or Part 1 of that Act respectively; or
(iii) for use in electronic or any other format to provide news to the public by means of the internet; [my emphasis]

So, for the purposes of those regulations, a newspaper includes any organisation which is systematically engaged in collecting news for use in electronic or any other format to provide news to the public by means of the internet. (The 2007 regs interpretation section don’t clarify the meaning of “newspapers”.)

This presumably means, for example, that under regulation 14(2), my local hyperlocal blog, Ventnorblog, could request as a newspaper a copy of any of the documents available for public inspection following payment to the Isle of Wight Council of “postage, copying or other necessary charge for transmission”. Assuming Ventnorblog passes the test of (a) being an organisation, that (b) is systematically engaged in collecting news, and for backwards compatibility with other regulations can be show to be (c) circulating in the local council area.

If this interpretation of newspapers applies more widely, (for example, if this interpretation is now applied across outstanding Local Government regulations), it also suggests that whereas councils would traditionally have had to place an advert in their local (print) newspaper, now they can do it via a hyperlocal blog?

So this might also include announcements about Licensing of public entertainments [1(4)], or adult shops [2(2)], tattoo shops [13(6)], temporary markets [37(1)], traffic orders [17(2a)], etc etc

PS Hmm, I wonder, is there a single list somewhere detailing all the legislation that requires local councils to “publish in a newspaper circulating in the area”…?

PPS via @robandale, this Local Government Information Unit initiative on Reforming Statutory Notices. It links to a survey for local councils relating to “how many notices are produced, how much they cost, how effective you believe they are etc.” to try to get a baseline on current practice.

A quick peek at the Isle of Wight Council Armchair Auditor (as run by Ventnorblog and updated from Adrian Short’s original version) gives us an idea of how much the Isle of Wight Council spends on “Advertising and Publicity” in areas such as “Traffic Management” (so presumably statutory notices relating to roadworks, road closures etc?) with the local rag, the Isle of Wight County Press.

Presumably a search on OpenlyLocal’s council spending dashboard would turn up similar spending categories for other councils? (It could be quite interesting to try exploring that… I’m not sure if data on the OpenlyLocal spending dashboard has been updated lately, though? I think OpenSpending take their data from OpenlyLocal, so that isn’t much additional help. And the DCLG opendatacommunities.org site only has budget related finance data at the moment?)

Hmm..thinks.. you could get an idea of how much external spending burden different bits of legislation impose on councils from their spending data, couldn’t you?

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Searching for a Map of Designated Public Places…

A discussion, earlier, about whether it was now illegal to drink in public…

…I thought not, think not, at least, not generally… My understanding was, that local authorities can set up controlled, alcohol free zones and create some sort of civil offence for being caught drinking alcohol there. (As it is, councils can set up regions where public consumption of alcohol may be prohibited and this prohibition may be enforced by the police.) So surely there must be an #opendata powered ‘no drinking here’ map around somewhere? The sort of thing that might result from a newspaper hack day, something that could provide a handy layer on a pub map? I couldn’t find one, though…

I did a websearch, turned up The Local Authorities (Alcohol Consumption in Designated Public Places) Regulations 2007, which does indeed appear to be the bit of legislation that regulates drinking alcohol in public, along with a link to a corresponding guidance note: Home Office circular 013 / 2007:

16. The provisions of the CJPA [Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001, Chapter 2 Provisions for combatting alcohol-related disorder] should not lead to a comprehensive ban on drinking in the open air.

17. It is the case that where there have been no problems of nuisance or annoyance to the public or disorder having been associated with drinking in that place, then a designation order … would not be appropriate. However, experience to date on introducing DPPOs has found that introducing an Order can lead to nuisance or annoyance to the public or disorder associated with public drinking being displaced into immediately adjacent areas that have not been designated for this purpose. … It might therefore be appropriate for a local authority to designate a public area beyond that which is experiencing the immediate problems caused by anti-social drinking if police evidence suggests that the existing problem is likely to be displaced once the DPPO was in place. In which case the designated area could include the area to which the existing problems might be displaced.

Creepy, creep, creep…

This, I thought, was interesting too, in the guidance note:

37. To ensure that the public have full access to information about designation orders made under section 13 of the Act and for monitoring arrangements, Regulation 9 requires all local authorities to send a copy of any designation order to the Secretary of State as soon as reasonably practicable after it has been made.

38. The Home Office will continue to maintain a list of all areas designated under the 2001 Act on the Home Office website: www.crimereduction.gov.uk/alcoholorders01.htm [I’m not convinced that URL works any more…?]

39. In addition, local authorities may wish to consider publicising designation orders made on their own websites, in addition to the publicity requirements of the accompanying Regulations, to help to ensure full public accessibility to this information.

So I’m thinking: this sort of thing could be a great candidate for a guidance note from the Home Office to local councils recommending ways of releasing information about the extent of designation orders as open geodata. (Related? Update from ONS on data interoperability (“Overcoming the incompatibility of statistical and geographic information systems”).)

I couldn’t immediately find a search on data.gov.uk that would turn up related datasets (though presumably the Home Office is aggregating this data, even if it’s just in a filing cabinet or mail folder somewhere*), but a quick websearch for Designated Public Places site:gov.uk intitle:council turned up a wide selection of local council websites along with their myriad ways of interpreting how to release the data. I’m not sure if any of them release the data as geodata, though? Maybe this would be an appropriate test of the scope of the Protection of Freedoms Act Part 6 regulations on the right to request data as data (I need to check them again…)?

* The Home Office did release a table of designated public places in response to an FOI request about designated public place orders, although not as data… But it got me wondering: if I scheduled a monthly FOI request to the Home Office requesting the data on a monthly basis, would they soon stop fulfilling the requests as timewasting? How about if we got a rota going?! Is there any notion of a longitudinal/persistent FOI request, that just keeps on giving (could I request the list of designated public places the Home Office has been informed about over the last year, along with a monthly update of requests in the previous month (or previous month but one, or whatever is reasonable…) over the next 18 months, or two years, or for the life of the regulation, or until such a time as the data is published as open data on a regular basis?

As for the report to government that a local authority must make on passing a designation order – 9. A copy of any order shall be sent to the Secretary of State as soon as reasonably practicable after it has been made. – it seems that how the area denoted as a public space is described is moot: “5. Before making an order, a local authority shall cause to be published in a newspaper circulating in its area a notice— (a)identifying specifically or by description the place proposed to be identified;“. Hmmm, two things jump out there…

Firstly, a local authority shall cause to be published in a newspaper circulating in its area [my emphasis; how is a newspaper circulating in its area defined? Do all areas of England have a non-national newspaper circulating in that area? Does this implicitly denote some “official channel” responsibility on local newspapers for the communication of local government notices?]. Hmmm…..

Secondly, the area identified specifically or by description. On commencement, the order must also be made public by “identifying the place which has been identified in the order”, again “in a newspaper circulating in its area”. But I wonder – is there an opportunity there to require something along the lines of and published using an appropriate open data standard in a open public data repository, and maybe further require that this open public data copy is the one that is used as part of the submission informing the Home Office about the regulation? And if we go overboard, how about we further require that each enacted and proposed order is published as such along with a machine readable geodata description and that a single aggregate files containing all that Local Authority’s currently and planned Designated Public Spaces are also published (so one URL for all current spaces, one for all planned ones). Just by the by, does anyone know of any local councils publishing boundary date/shapefiles that mark out their Designated Public Spaces? Please let me know via the comments, if so…

A couple of other, very loosely (alcohol) related, things I found along the way:

  • Local Alcohol Profiles for England: the aim appears to have been the collation of, and a way of exploring, a “national alcohol dataset”, that maps alcohol related health indicators on a PCT (Primary Care Trust) and LA (local authority) basis. What this immediately got me wondering was: did they produce any tooling, recipes or infrastructure that would it make a few clicks easy to pull together a national tobacco dataset and associated website, for example? And then I found the Local Tobacco Control Profiles for England toolkit on the London Health Observatory website, along with a load of other public health observatories and it made me remember – again – just how many data sensemaking websites there already are out there…
  • UK Alcohol Strategy – maybe some leads into other datasets/data stories?

PS I wonder if any of the London Boroughs or councils hosting regional events have recently declared any new Designated Public Spaces #becauseOfTheOlympics.

Comment call: Objectivity and impartiality – a newsroom policy for student projects

I’ve been updating a newsroom policy guide for a project some of my students will be working on, with a particular section on objectivity and impartiality. As this has coincided with the debate on fact-checking stirred by the New York Times public editor Arthur Brisbane, I thought I would reproduce the guidelines here, and invite comments on whether you think it hits the right note:

Objectivity and impartiality: newsroom policy

Objectivity is a method, not an element of style. In other words:

  • Do not write stories that give equal weight to each ‘side’ of an argument if the evidence behind each side of the argument is not equal. Doing so misrepresents the balance of opinions or facts. Your obligation is to those facts, not to the different camps whose claims may be false.
  • Do not simply report the assertions of different camps. As a journalist your responsibility is to check those assertions. If someone misrepresents the facts, do not simply say someone else disagrees, make a statement along the lines of “However, the actual wording of the report…” or “The official statistics do not support her argument” or “Research into X contradict this.” And of course, link to that evidence and keep a copy for yourself (which is where transparency comes in).

Lazy reporting of assertions without evidence is called the ‘View From Nowhere’ – you can read Jay Rosen’s Q&A or the Wikipedia entry, which includes this useful explanation:

“A journalist who strives for objectivity may fail to exclude popular and/or widespread untrue claims and beliefs from the set of true facts. A journalist who has done this has taken The View From Nowhere. This harms the audience by allowing them to draw conclusions from a set of data that includes untrue possiblities. It can create confusion where none would otherwise exist.”

Impartiality is dependent on objectivity. It is not (as subjects of your stories may argue) giving equal coverage to all sides, but rather promising to tell the story based on objective evidence rather than based on your own bias or prejudice. All journalists will have opinions and preconceived ideas of what a story might be, but an impartial journalist is prepared to change those opinions, and change the angle of the story. In the process they might challenge strongly-held biases of the society they report on – but that’s your job.

The concept of objectivity comes from the sciences, and this provides a useful guideline: scientists don’t sit between two camps and repeat assertions without evaluating them. They identify a claim (hypothesis) and gather the evidence behind it – both primary and secondary.

Claims may, however, already be in the public domain and attracting a lot of attention and support. In those situations reporting should be open about the information the journalist does not have. For example:

  • “His office, however, were unable to direct us to the evidence quoted”, or
  • “As the report is yet to be published, it is not possible to evaluate the accuracy of these claims”, or
  • “When pushed, X could not provide any documentation to back up her claims”.

Thoughts?

Accessing and Visualising Sentencing Data for Local Courts

A recent provisional data release from the Ministry of Justice contains sentencing data from English(?) courts, at the offence level, for the period July 2010-June 2011: “Published for the first time every sentence handed down at each court in the country between July 2010 and June 2011, along with the age and ethnicity of each offender.” Criminal Justice Statistics in England and Wales [data]

In this post, I’ll describe a couple of ways of working with the data to produce some simple graphical summaries of the data using Google Fusion Tables and R…

…but first, a couple of observations:

– the web page subheading is “Quarterly update of statistics on criminal offences dealt with by the criminal justice system in England and Wales.”, but the sidebar includes the link to the 12 month set of sentencing data;
– the URL of the sentencing data is http://www.justice.gov.uk/downloads/publications/statistics-and-data/criminal-justice-stats/recordlevel.zip, which does not contain a time reference, although the data is time bound. What URL will be used if data for the period 7/11-6/12 is released in the same way next year?

The data is presented as a zipped CSV file, 5.4MB in the zipped form, and 134.1MB in the unzipped form.

The unzipped CSV file is too large to upload to a Google Spreadsheet or a Google Fusion Table, which are two of the tools I use for treating large CSV files as a database, so here are a couple of ways of getting in to the data using tools I have to hand…

Unix Command Line Tools

I’m on a Mac, so like Linux users I have ready access to a Console and several common unix commandline tools that are ideally suited to wrangling text files (on Windows, I suspect you need to install something like Cygwin; a search for windows unix utilities should turn up other alternatives too).

In Playing With Large (ish) CSV Files, and Using Them as a Database from the Command Line: EDINA OpenURL Logs and Postcards from a Text Processing Excursion I give a couple of examples of how to get started with some of the Unix utilities, which we can crib from in this case. So for example, after unzipping the recordlevel.csv document I can look at the first 10 rows by opening a console window, changing directory to the directory the file is in, and running the following command:

head recordlevel.csv

Or I can pull out rows that contain a reference to the Isle of Wight using something like this command:

grep -i wight recordlevel.csv > recordsContainingWight.csv

(The -i reads: “ignoring case”; grep is a command that identifies rows contain the search term (wight in this case). The > recordsContainingWight.csv says “send the result to the file recordsContainingWight.csv” )

Having extracted rows that contain a reference to the Isle of Wight into a new file, I can upload this smaller file to a Google Spreadsheet, or as Google Fusion Table such as this one: Isle of Wight Sentencing Fusion table.

Isle fo wight sentencing data

Once in the fusion table, we can start to explore the data. So for example, we can aggregate the data around different values in a given column and then visualise the result (aggregate and filter options are available from the View menu; visualisation types are available from the Visualize menu):

Visualising data in google fusion tables

We can also introduce filters to allow use to explore subsets of the data. For example, here are the offences committed by females aged 35+:

Data exploration in Google FUsion tables

Looking at data from a single court may be of passing local interest, but the real data journalism is more likely to be focussed around finding mismatches between sentencing behaviour across different courts. (Hmm, unless we can get data on who passed sentences at a local level, and look to see if there are differences there?) That said, at a local level we could try to look for outliers maybe? As far as making comparisons go, we do have Court and Force columns, so it would be possible to compare Force against force and within a Force area, Court with Court?

R/RStudio

If you really want to start working the data, then R may be the way to go… I use RStudio to work with R, so it’s a simple matter to just import the whole of the reportlevel.csv dataset.

Once the data is loaded in, I can use a regular expression to pull out the subset of the data corresponding once again to sentencing on the Isle of Wight (i apply the regular expression to the contents of the court column:

recordlevel <- read.csv("~/data/recordlevel.csv")
iw=subset(recordlevel,grepl("wight",court,ignore.case=TRUE))

We can then start to produce simple statistical charts based on the data. For example, a bar plot of the sentencing numbers by age group:

age=table(iw$AGE)
barplot(age, main="IW: Sentencing by Age", xlab="Age Range")

R - bar plot

We can also start to look at combinations of factors. For example, how do offence types vary with age?

ageOffence=table(iw$AGE, iw$Offence_type)
barplot(ageOffence,beside=T,las=3,cex.names=0.5,main="Isle of Wight Sentences", xlab=NULL, legend = rownames(ageOffence))

R barplot - offences on IW

If we remove the beside=T argument, we can produce a stacked bar chart:

barplot(ageOffence,las=3,cex.names=0.5,main="Isle of Wight Sentences", xlab=NULL, legend = rownames(ageOffence))

R - stacked bar chart

If we import the ggplot2 library, we have even more flexibility over the presentation of the graph, as well as what we can do with this sort of chart type. So for example, here’s a simple plot of the number of offences per offence type:

require(ggplot2)
#You may need to install ggplot2 as a library if it isn't already installed
ggplot(iw, aes(factor(Offence_type)))+ geom_bar() + opts(axis.text.x=theme_text(angle=-90))+xlab('Offence Type')

GGPlot2 in R

Alternatively, we can break down offence types by age:

ggplot(iw, aes(AGE))+ geom_bar() +facet_wrap(~Offence_type)

ggplot facet barplot

We can bring a bit of colour into a stacked plot that also displays the gender split on each offence:

ggplot(iw, aes(AGE,fill=sex))+geom_bar() +facet_wrap(~Offence_type)

ggplot with stacked factor

One thing I’m not sure how to do is rip the data apart in a ggplot context so that we can display percentage breakdowns, so we could compare the percentage breakdown by offence type on sentences awarded to males vs. females, for example? If you do know how to do that, please post a comment below 😉

PS HEre’s an easy way of getting started with ggplot… use the online hosted version at http://www.yeroon.net/ggplot2/ using this data set: wightCrimRecords.csv; download the file to your computer then upload it as shown below:

yeroon.net/ggplot2

PPS I got a little way towards identifying percentage breakdowns using a crib from here. The following command:
iwp=tapply(iw$Offence_type,iw$sex,function(x){prop.table(table(x))})
generates a (multidimensional) array for the responseVar (Offence) about the groupVar (sex). I don’t know how to generate a single data frame from this, but we can create separate ones for each sex as follows:
iwpMale=data.frame(iwp['Male'])
iwpFemale=data.frame(iwp['Female'])

We can then plot these percentages using constructions of the form:
ggplot(iwp2)+geom_bar(aes(x=Male.x,y=Male.Freq))
What I haven’t worked out how to do is elegantly map from the multidimensional array to a single data.frame? If you know how, please add a comment below…(I also posted a question on Cross Validated, the stats bit of Stack Exchange…)