AccessDocs is now dormant!

Thanks for visiting the blog. I am no longer updating it, but will be leaving all the content online.

You can find out about my current journalism work (and contact details) on my website.

For reference, here are some links to the most frequently read articles on AccessDocs:

Thanks for reading,


BBC fails to communicate with staff, top exec warned Director General


BBC director general Mark Thompson

BBC director general Mark Thompson // Photo: Frank Boyd

Mark Thompson, the director general of the BBC, was warned by a senior executive that communication with staff over pension changes was not good enough.

Strike action in 2010 saw broadcasts, including Radio 4’s Today programme, taken off air amid union disputes. Now, emails have been uncovered revealing that concerns over the way the BBC dealt with the situation were held at the most senior levels of the corporation.

An email sent to Thompson from Technology Chief Erik Huggers said: “for an organization who is renowned around the world for informing people, we do a poor job of that with our own staff.”

Thompson appears not to have replied to the email. The following year, Huggers left the BBC for a job in Silicon Valley.

Other emails sent to Mark Thompson, which have been released under the Freedom of Information Act, shine light on lengthy internal research on the salaries of senior executives. The results of one survey, which was sent to Thompson, said: “The absolute levels of salary that are being paid to top executives were deemed far too high.” It went on to say that the salaries of executives “seemed to inflame passions even more than talent costs.”

Three days later an email was circulated which was marked: “some useful facts on top pay”. The statistics appear to attempt to justify high pay in the BBC by noting that “over 25,000 people working in the public sector earn more than £100,000 a year.” The email ends with the suggestion that the statistics “might be useful for Press briefing”

Mark Thompson last month signaled that he would step down as the director general at the end of the year, or in early 2013. He took over the role in 2004, after the resignation of Greg Dyke over the Hutton Inquiry.


Email to BBC director general Mark Thompson from Erik Huggers

Email sent from BBC Technology Chief Erik Huggers to Mark Thompson (extract)


Top 100 most complained about shows, 2011: The full list

I wrote a piece for today’s Guardian about the top 100 most complained about TV and radio shows of the year.

Now, here’s the full list…

First they rip you off… then they con you – How unis twisted numbers to “cut” fees

Detail behind the stats show unis have become more elitist, rather than cutting fees. // Photo: Flikr CC, Frandroid Atreides

Earlier this month it was widely reported that 25 universities had lowered their tuition fees to £7,500. The move allowed them to access a pool of 20,000 extra students, purposely set aside by the government.

The Mail said “One English university in five is to slash tuition fees to below £7,500”. The Telegraph reported that the universities “have lowered their tuition fees to below £7,500 a year”. And PoliticsHome said “25 universities and colleges have announced they are to reduce their tuition fees”.

They were all wrong. Most of the universities did not, in fact, make any changes to their fees. It was an illusion.

Rather than course fees being lowered for everyone, the average fees have been pushed down by the introduction of new scholarships for high-achievers only. The £7,500 figure is only reached when these are taken into account. The actual fees, for everyone else, remains the same.

Figures from the Office of Fair Access (Offa) show that only three of the 25 universities now have average fees lower than £7,500 when waivers are not included.

Five of the universities still have average fees above that amount even when all means-tested scholarships are taken into account. In Offa’s books, these places do not get within the £7,500 threshold.

But although the Offa figures only take means-tested fee waivers into account when calculating averages, university bids for extra students will be based on Hefce calculations – which include all types of bursaries.

This means that some universities have been able to give the impression they are cutting fees when, in fact, they are trying to make themselves more elitist by introducing new scholarships for successful students instead.

For instance, at Aston University, a new scheme will award £4,000 to applicants with AAB at A-level. But for students without a scholarship, tuition fees are still set at £9,000.

A similar scheme at the University of Wolverhampton is for students who have “exceeded expections” and not based at all on family income. Students are awarded £1,000 in their final year to reward academic achievements if they are selected by their department. Students who do not get selected for any scholarship will have to pay an average of £8,300.

Averages fees for the University of Hertfordshire have also been affected by work placement years, where students do not have to pay tuition fees. Meanwhile, at the University of West London, a new bursary will be given to just 16 hand-picked students. Department heads nominate individuals who are given the second year of their degrees for free.

You can see the data here, or download it as a CSV file here.

The data is originally from the access agreement data (published July, 2011) and the updated access agreement data (published December, 2011). Both can be found here.

A note about the data:   Some of these figures do not quite add up because Offa accidentally rounded up the revised estimated fee averages, but didn’t round up the original figures. Offa say they will revise this on their website. Either way though, this doesn’t affect the overall picture. In the case of Wolverhampton, the larger discrepancy is caused by a course that had not been registered in time for the original figures.

BBC breaching transparency laws over Mark Thompson’s emails to Jeremy Hunt

Above the law: What does Mark Thompson have to hide?

The BBC is knowingly breaking Freedom of Information laws by refusing to release emails sent between the Director-General Mark Thompson and Culture secretary Jeremy Hunt.

The disclosure of communications was requested in June by AccessDocs, but the BBC has openly rejected transparency laws.

They said: “we need further time in which to consider the public interest in disclosing the information.” But, having already extended their response deadline by 20 days, they have now crossed the final legal deadline for response.

Despite warnings to the BBC stating that it’s intention to delay the disclosures would be a breach of the rules, staff remained defiant. “The BBC is of the view that the delay is justified,” a policy adviser said.

This was not the view of a source at the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) who said he couldn’t see how the behavior did not constitute a breach.

The ICO explain: “Public authorities should respond to a request for information within 20 working days. If they need to consider the public interest this may be extended to 40 working days, providing you have been informed.” More than a week has passed since the maximum 40-day deadline.

Is everyone really on Twitter? Is it really the new world power? … No.

A bit different from the usual type of blog posts on here, but these stats are quite interesting.

Newspapers seem to constantly use Twitter as a source for news stories and people talk about it as some kind of world power. Here’s the way it actually is…

Twitter internet statistics


BBC increasingly using unpaid labour

A document published by the BBC shows the extent of unpaid work that goes on in the organisation. More than 6,283 people undertook ‘work experience’ placements between 2007 and 2010.

This has increased from just over 1,000 placements in 2007, to approaching 2,000 in 2010.

(It should be pointed out that there are, of course, legal arguments about what counts as work and what counts simply as shadowing and learning.)

It’s also interesting to view this in line with another document showing that the number of graduates the BBC has employed during the same period has fallen by more than a half – from 430 to 200. To what extent is unpaid work experience replacing recruitment?

View the documents here:

View the BBC’s full FOI disclosure log here:

Police injuries in anti-cuts demo

This is interesting. A lot was made in the news about how the “anarchists” at the anti-cuts demo on 26 March 2011 caused lots of injuries to police officers. This is undeniably true, but the details are a little more complex.

The Metropolitan Police have released a full list of officer injuries and many of these are obviously pretty serious.  The Met originally said (in this press release) that 56 officers had been injured and this was duly snapped up by the media. (Although, according to this document which was released the following month, it was actually 76 officers.)

However, it is important to note two facts that the news media on the whole failed to mention.

(1) These 56 – or 76, as it now seems to be – are not confirmed injuries, they are simply cases where the officer has reported an injury. This is not to say that the figures are necessarily inaccurate but, nevertheless, this should be considered.

(2) What this document highlights is how the figures get bumped up by some incredibly minor injuries, and make the whole thing sound worse than it actually is. Again, this is not to question the serious nature of some of the injuries, but the list certainly includes a few surprising entries. These include: “No visible injury,” “Swelling to finger,” “Redness to the face,” and just: ”            “.  The figures even include one officer who simply accidentally “tripped and fell” and hurt his ankle.

View the document here:

View the full online Metropolitan Police FOI disclosure log here:

BBC in England spends £1,868 on biscuits, but doesn’t serve any orange squash

This is not in any way important, and it is FOI requests like this that probably give the FOI Act a bad name. But, it is nevertheless vaguely interesting (if you are looking for an employer who will provide you with free biscuits).

View the documents here:

View the BBC’s full FOI disclosure log here:

BBC Director-General’s lavish expenses claims

Mark Thompson claimed £2,206.38 on lunches, dinners and “business drinks” in 2010. Some £391.07 was claimed for drinks alone.

In a single evening evening he spent £50.50 on drinks in a luxury hotel in London.

(NB:  Although this type of data is often used by newspapers to criticise the BBC for wasting license fee payers’ money, these expenses are actually, of course, only a tiny fraction of the BBC’s budget. These figures simply serve to expose the fact that Mark Thompson, who already earns £668,000 a year, still won’t buy his own drinks.)

The BBC’s website has extensive, but hard-to-find, disclosure logs and transparency documents. You can see the documents listing all Mark Thompson’s expenses here:

More stuff on the BBC’s senior staff can be found here:

You can also view the BBC’s FOI disclosure log here:

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