Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Freedom of Information

On a number of occasions I have had to threaten to submit a complaint to the FOI commissioner just to obtain documents and information from the Local Government Ombudsman.

However, on one occasion even the threat of submitting a complaint to the FOI commissioner failed to secure a copy of the information I had requested. As a result I had to submit a complaint to the FOI commissioner.

What is unusual is that the Local Government Ombudsman gave the council a copy of my complaint together with the opportunity to respond but I have never been allowed to see the council’s response to my complaint or comment on it in any way.

Even though the laws of natural justice state that both parties should see all the evidence used by the Local Government Ombudsman when reaching their decision they still refuse to let me see the evidence on which they based their decision.

I think it ludicrous that a complainant has to submit a complaint to the FOI commissioner in order to gain access to documents they need in order to effectively pursue their complaint. Information that the Local Government Ombudsman should have provided, as of right, in the course of their decision making process.

However, it is not only the Local Government Ombudsman who refuses to divulge information without recourse to the FOI commissioner. Councillors in Norwich Council had to use the FOI Act in order to get information from their own executive. How ludicrous is that! A Chief Executive Officer of a Council refusing to give their own Councillors (Norwich local taxpayers elected representatives) information and forcing them to use the FOI Act.

Now here is the interesting bit, the CEO of Norwich Council at the time was Mrs Ann Seex and she is now a Local Government Ombudsman.

So the refusal to give information without recourse to the FOI commissioner would appear to be a devious tactic that Mrs Seex has brought with her.

Shouldn’t the Chief Executive of a Council and a Local Government Ombudsman be operating in an open, honest and transparent manner? Just what is Mrs Seex frightened of?

At least this experience adds further evidence to my argument that the original principles of a Local Government Ombudsman have been seriously diluted by a constant influx of ex Council staff over the last twenty years or so.

Can you imagine what the police force would be like if the majority of senior staff were recruited from the very people they were supposed to be investigating for wrongdoings?

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