Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Has another document fabricated by the LGO come to light?

A few years ago I submitted a Freedom of Information request to the Council for a copy of a letter they should have received from the Local Government Ombudsman.

I had already been sent a copy of the letter the LGO had purportedly sent to the council but wanted to prove if the council had in fact been sent a letter at all.

Now all the council had to say in response to my FOI request was that they didn't have the letter I requested. However, they didn't, they went out of their way to contact the LGO's office, who at the Council's request, fabricated another letter so the Council could give me the impression they had actually received the original. When I received the information and compared the two letters I was gob-smacked.

Not only was the content of the two letters different the original letter I received was printed on their old letter head and signed by Pat Thomas, the then LGO whilst the Council's copy sent in response to my FOI request was printed on the LGO's new letter head and signed by Anne Seex, an LGO who wasn't even in post when the letter was supposedly written and sent to them.

Naturally I complained but as usual with the Local Government Ombudsman's office they don't appear to see anything wrong with fabricating documents to help a Council....or themselves as this later evidence would suggest....whilst recently reading the LGO's responses to various FOI requests on the What Do They Know website I came across another document apparently fabricated by the LGO

This time an official CLAE document signed by Pat Thomas 5 years after she retired as LGO and Vice Chair of the Commission for Local Administration (CLAE). Is the signature genuine? If it is why is Pat Thomas signing CLAE documents 5 years after she retired and does she indeed have the authority to do so? Or are the CLAE just trying to clean up the audit trail regarding Redmond's trip to Australia because of an embarrassing FOI request?

Authoritarians have an extreme contempt for facts as such, for in their opinion fact depends entirely on the power of the man who can fabricate it (Hannah Arendt: Origins of Totalitarianism). And the LGO certainly have the power!

Why don't the LGO and their staff fully understand the law?

LGO legal assistants don't appear to fully understand the law, more specifically in this case Section 32(2) of the 1974 Local Government Act. Therefore, is it any wonder that Ms Pook and Nigel Karney have also got it wrong in the past. In addition can complainants have any faith in their complaints being handled correctly if the LGO and their staff don't even understand the Statute that governs them?

The following is an extract from a response to a freedom of information request made via the What Do They Know website.

Section 32(2) Local Government Act 1974:

As Ms Pook has explained, everything we do is governed by the Local Government Act 1974.

That Act contains a statutory prohibition on the disclosure of information (s32(2) LGA 1974). This statutory bar maintains that the Local Government Ombudsmen shall not disclose information except in the furtherance of an investigation (or for a number of other limited reasons which do not apply to your request).

Accordingly, we are unable to release information outside the context of an investigation: s44 FOIA 2000 applies and, in respect of information the disclosure of which would breach s32(2) LGA 1974 an ‘absolute’ exemption bites against the right to be given information under FOIA 2000.

In your circumstances you therefore have no rights to the information under the FOIA 2000.

Whilst I appreciate that you have only requested final letters setting out the findings of local settlements (and not the entire contents of complaint files) s32(2) LGA 1974 makes no such distinction.

For these reasons I can see no basis on which to question Ms Pook’s handling of your request.

That concludes the Commission’s handling of this matter. If you consider that I have not dealt with your request properly you can raise the matter with the Information Commissioner (www.ico.gov.uk).

Yours sincerely,
Mark Lant, Legal Assistant

However, Section 32(2) states no such thing. This is what the act actually states.

32 (2) Information obtained [my emphasis] by a Local Commissioner, or any officer of either Commission, in the course of or for the purposes of an investigation under this Part of this Act shall not be disclosed [my emphasis] except—

(a) for the purposes of the investigation and of any report to be made under section 30 or section 31 above; or

(b) for the purposes of any proceedings for an offence under the Official Secrets Acts 1911 to 1939 alleged to have been committed in respect of information obtained, by virtue of this Part of this Act, by a Local Commissioner or by an officer of either Commission or for an offence of perjury alleged to have been committed in the course of an investigation under this Part of this Act or for the purposes of an inquiry with a view to the taking of such proceedings, or
(c)for the purpose of any proceedings under section 29(9) above,

and a Local Commissioner and the officers of his Commission shall not be called upon to give evidence in any proceedings (other than proceedings within paragraph (b) or (c) above) of matters coming to his or their knowledge in the course of an investigation under this Part of this Act.

Therefore there is NO statutory bar on information as such being disclosed, only information obtained by them from others. 
In a previous decision notice the information Commissioner states

"It is the Commissioner’s [Information Commissioner] opinion that section 32(2) LGA does not act as a blanket exemption to all of the information it holds in its complaint file. [my emphasis] Having said this, the Commissioner recognises that information which is not exempt constitutes only a fraction of the information held by the public authority [LGO]." 

In addition the information Commissioner goes on to clearly explains the true purpose of Section 32(2).

The Commissioner considers that the purpose of section 32(2) LGA was to ensure that information pertaining to an investigation carried out by the public authority is kept confidential. Were information obtained in the course of or for the purposes of an investigation released, it could serve to undermine the public  authority’s ability to conduct further investigations and that this would not be in the  public interest. If the various parties involved in the investigation of a complaint thought that information they supply to the public authority in the course of, or for the purposes of, an investigation could be disclosed then they may be less willing to co-operate with any investigation. [My Emphasis]

In this case the LGO did not obtain all of the information requested they created most of it. Unless they are suggesting that the public authority under investigation actually supplied their own outcomes, findings and recommendations?  Therefore, the information in the documents should be supplied with, if necessary, any confidential third party provided information redacted.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Torbay: A Local? Settlement is just maldministration by another name!

The most recent annual reviews (previous called annual letters) sent to all councils about their performance in dealing with complaints made about them to the Local Government Ombudsman have recently been published.

When some councils publicise their annual review they place great emphasis on the fact that the Local Government Ombudsman has not found any maladministration. However, this totally ignores the fact that they and the Local Government Ombudsman settled numerous cases of maladministration.

What councils don't appear to understand is that a local settlement means only one thing, they have paid compensation for an act of maladministration.

The fact that Councils and the Local Government Ombudsman have a duplicitous arrangement to avoid Council wrongdoings being recorded as maladministration does not detract from the fact that if they had not been guilty of any wrongdoing they would not have had to pay compensation to settle cases.

When are the Local Government Ombudsmen and Councils going to stop manipulating the true levels of council maladministration?

Here is an example of serious maladministration that was NOT recorded as maladministration by the Local Government Ombudsman. Jerry White Local Government Ombudsman, Coventry office,  should be ashamed of himself for not recording this as a serious act of maladministration leading to injustice.

[Jerry White the then Ombudsman has now retired and has been replaced with Dr Jane Martin]

"A council apologised today and admitted paying £12,000 in compensation to two girls who were sexually abused by two children in care. Torbay Council in Devon paid £6,000 to each abused girl after their parents complained and agreed to review its risk management policies and procedures.

The case emerged in the Local Government Ombudsman's annual report for the financial year 2009/10. It revealed the council failed to adequately assess the risk posed by placing the children next door to the girls.

It also failed to offer appropriate support to the complainants and their daughters following the abuse. Torbay Council chief executive Elizabeth Raikes said: "We completely accept the Ombudsman's decision to award these four local settlements and apologise for any distress caused to the complainants."

Why are such serious acts of maladministration leading to injustice not recorded or reported as such by the Local Government Ombudsman? Notice the complete absence of the word maladministration in the article and the LGO's failure to record it a such in their annual review of Torbay Council.

In 2009/10 the Local Government Ombudsman took decisions on 26 complaints against Torbay Council. In 11 cases they found no or insufficient evidence of maladministration. 7 complaints were outside their jurisdiction (How an earth a Local Government Ombudsman can take a decision on a complaint that is outside their jurisdiction to take a decision on is beyond me.) and in 4 cases Torbay Council agreed to settle the complaint. The LGO exercised discretion not to investigate a further 4 cases. Typically these are cases where, even though there may have been some fault by the council, there is no significant injustice to the complainant.

26 complaints, £18,800 compensation paid by Torbay Council for the injustice they caused through their maladministration to 4 complainants yet not 1 case of maladministration leading to injustice recorded or reported as such by the Local Government Ombudsman.

The Local Government Ombudsman who tried to bury this serious act of maladministration as a local settlement may consider it settled but the complainants certainly don't.

And the LGO wonder why complainants think they are duplicitous!

Why not download your councils annual review and see how economical with the truth the Local Government Ombudsman has been when recording and reporting their true levels of maladministration. 

Footnote:  The Local Government Ombudsmen invented local settlements years ago as a way of avoiding having to find a public authority guilty of maladministration for a number of reasons. (a) It saved them the time and effort of having to conduct a proper investigation and produce a formal report. (b) It gave them a carrot with which to dangle before the public authority, 'settle the case locally before we complete the investigation and you can bury a finding of maladministration' on the cheap. Local Government Ombudsmen prefer not to issue a maladministration report and recommend compensation because councils can ignore their recommendations with impunity. (c) It allowed the public authority concerned to boast that the Local Government Ombudsman had not upheld a complaint of maladministration against them. The only loser is the complainant who has the settlement forced upon them.

It is important to realise that Local Settlements are agreed between one of the three Local Government Ombudsman's offices in the country and the public authority concerned. The complainant has NO say in the matter. The word local was deviously introduced by the LGO to give the impression that settlements are made locally between the Council and the Complainant when they are not.  There is nothing local about a local settlement.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Spending Challenge: An update on getting rid of the LGO

For some reason the Government Spending Challenge website has stopped people adding comments to spending challenge suggestions so I thought I would use a work around and advise others to do the same. Whilst you are no longer allowed to vote or comment on suggestions already made you can still submit one of your own. Therefore, I have submitted my own suggestion about the Local Government Ombudsman and suggest others now do the same. Click here to submit your suggestion

My suggestion is copied below but you can word your own suggestion in any way you want.

Scrap the discredited Local Government Ombudsman and replace them with an independent tribunal. The Government is wasting vast sums of money on a system of administrative justice that does not work. Spending taxpayers money on a system designed to bury local authority maladministration is expensive and counter productive, you need a system which improves local administration by exposing, not burying, local authority wrongdoings.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Who's guarding the guards?

An interesting article by Martin Hannan published by the Edinburgh News starts by asking an interesting question, Who's guarding public's guards?

Although his article is about standards in public life and the standards commission in Scotland, the same question could be asked about the Commission for Local Administration in England, more commonly known as the Local Government Ombudsman.

Who ensures they are doing their job properly? The answer, surprisingly, is the same people who they are supposed to be protecting the public from, the public sector.

Can you imagine if the inmates of a prison were also in charge of ensuring that prison guards did their job properly. Would they really be interested in an effective and efficient system or would they ensure the system is run for their benefit and not that of the general public.

The Local Government Ombudsman is a con! Set up by the public sector to protect the public sector. Why else would all Ombudsmen and the majority of their staff be ex Local Authority or ex Government Department? Because the Public Sector is looking after itself, they don't want an effective Watchdog looking at their wrongdoings.

Public Sector protecting the Public Sector via puppets known as the Local Government Ombudsmen to give the public the impression that they have a Watchdog. Whilst in reality Local Government Ombudsmen are not Watchdogs at all they are more like neutered poodles kept in line (i.e. fed, watered, pulled into line and put down if they don't obey) by the Public Sector.

     York, Fluffy?          Coventry, Fifi?         London, Fido?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

New Government Spending Challenge: Get rid of the LGO

A recent suggestion to the New Governments Spending Challenge suggests getting rid of the discredited Local Government Ombudsmen and replacing them with an independent, fair, honest, accountable, efficient and helpful  alternative.  Please consider voting for this suggestion and leaving a comment.