Sunday, November 25, 2012

So has the Local Government Ombudsman improved?

It's nearly four months since the Local Government Ombudsman was panned by a government select committee. During that time I have been patiently waiting for signs of improvement.

Unfortunately, if the emails I regularly receive from complainants are anything to go by, the Local Government Ombudsmen are even worse than they were before they were panned.

When you take into account how bad they had become that couldn't have been an easy thing for them to achieve.

Instead of concentrating on improving the system of administrative justice for the benefit of complainants they appear to have concentrated their efforts on producing positive publicity (propaganda and spin) for the benefit of themselves, the authorities they are expected to investigate whilst paying lip service to the select committee's damning report.

They still appear to be using the same devious tactics that resulted in the select committee investigation in the first place. No doubt hoping that this would work on the select committee as it had done with others who had criticised them in the past.

The bottom line is the Local Government Ombudsman still doesn't get it and until they do I doubt we will see any improvement. Hopefully the select committee will see through their attempts at spin and manipulation, ask complainants directly what they really think of the service provided by the Local Government Ombudsman and then replace them with a fit for purpose system of administrative justice without any further delay.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Local government ombudsman: here's how we spin

On the 30th October 2012 Dr Jane Martin, Local Government Ombudsman and chair of the Commission for Local Administration in England issued the following press release. My comments in blue italics.
Local government ombudsman: here's how we'll change 
It's just a pity they had to wait for a select committee to produce a damning report before they realised what everyone else had known for years. The Local Government Ombudsman was not fit for purpose and hadn't been for over 20 years.
In my response to the communities and local government select committee, I acknowledged the need for the local government ombudsman (LGO) to open itself up to greater scrutiny; from our peers, from our partners, from the public and from parliament.
Ironic that they have spent the last 20 years doing exactly the opposite and only decide to open themselves up after the panning they received from the select committee. Rather goes to prove that a Local Government Ombudsman's judgement isn't that good after all.
We do so at a time of radical change, when we need to ensure the quality of our service and maintain public trust and confidence in that service. It is right that we are held properly accountable for implementing our plans.
How an earth can they 'maintain' public trust and confidence when it never existed in the first place? They need to create public trust first and whilst they continue to use linguistic gymnastics to evade the issues they won't get very far. Note the last sentence of the previous paragraph. It is right that we are held properly accountable for implementing our plans. Hang on a moment, complainants want you properly accountable, period. Not just accountable for implementing your plans.
Over the next few months I will be reflecting on the way we do things so that we understand how to work with authorities and residents to fulfil our brief of effective and proportionate dispute resolution. The ombudsman will be carrying out a number of reviews of how we work, including how we handle evidence and the speed of our investigations. I will be looking again at how we can best measure customer satisfaction and also reviewing all our public information.
Waiting for a kick up the backside before reflecting on the way they do things is a sad indictment of any manager let alone a Local Government Ombudsman. When they undertake their review into the way they handle evidence I hope they decide to stop burying evidence supplied by the complainant because it contradicts what the council have told them. 

As far as speeding up investigations is concerned they could make a start by spending less time trying to bury complaints, less time trying to find 'an out' for the authority concerned and more time on doing the job they are supposed to do. 

As far as customer satisfaction is concerned all they need to do is to be open, honest and make sure their decisions are sound and not, as is their usual modus operandi, based on evidence specially selected to support their decision. They need to start reaching decisions based on all the evidence not ignoring some of it because it contradicts their decision.
I will invite colleagues from other ombudsman schemes across the UK to share their expertise and challenge us as peers, and commission an external evaluation of our work to ensure our independence, fairness, effectiveness, openness, transparency and accountability.
I seriously doubt, having spent years creating an organisation that isn't truly independent, fair, open, transparent or accountable, they will be able to change the culture of the organisation with the current staff. Especially since the most Ombudsmen, Deputy Ombudsmen, Assistant Ombudsmen and Instigators are ex council and are responsible for creating and maintaining the system recently criticised by the select committee.
Things are already beginning to change at the LGO. We have already committed to publishing all our decisions on our website – the first public sector ombudsman to do so. Not only will this mean our work is more transparent, but it will also provide information to the public and their representatives about the quality of public administration and service delivery in their area.
Things are already beginning to change at the LGO?  They could hardly stay the same, their reputation was at an all time low and the government were at long last starting to take notice.

It's not just the decisions that are important but the evidence the decision is based on. The reason why the Local Government Ombudsman is the only public sector ombudsman to be forced to publish all their decisions is because they are demonstrably the worst public sector ombudsman and simply can't be trusted to reach sound decisions based on all the available evidence. They have a track record of  ringing up the council and reaching a decision based on the unsubstantiated statements of the council  rather than the evidence presented by the complainant.

It is interesting to note that they will provide information about the quality of administration and service delivery because they have failed to do so in the past
We have undertaken a staff survey early because we recognise the importance of their contribution in making this change; we must make sure that our team is engaged in this process. This survey is only the first step in a culture change for the organisation.
I doubt staff will be happy having to be transparent with their decisions. In the past the only way they could bolster their flawed decisions was to manipulate the evidence.  
Our first overhaul of the service is to introduce a new intake and assessment process, designed to assess complaints for investigation more quickly. We are starting in our London office and are asking local authorities to work with us to speed up this process.
We will learn from this first stage before rolling it out across the organisation in April next year.
I wonder why they have just decided to introduce a system to speed things up. Ah! just remembered they were panned by a select committee otherwise they would have continued to run an unfit for purpose system of administrative justice, as they have been doing for over 20 years, when they first started to recruit ex council staff..
I hope that the public will soon start to see the benefit of all this activity and feel reassured that the LGO is delivering public value as well as value for money.
For one I would have preferred it if the select committee had recommend that the government sack the LGO and all their staff and introduce a new system of administrative justice. Whilst there is no doubt the select committee has given them a second chance I personally don't think they are capable of change, for the better at least. 

Unfortunately complainants will all have to suffer the death throes of the unfit for purpose system for another couple of years until the select committee decide once and for all the Local Government Ombudsmen are incapable of running a fit for purpose system of administrative justice.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Has the LGO improved since the select committee report?

The Select Committee Report following their Inquiry into the Local Government Ombudsman was published on the 17 July 2012.

For those not wanting to wade through the full report I extracted the main failings of the Local Government Ombudsman from the select committee report.

As expected the LGO tried to defend themselves by responding to the panning they received in the select committee report. This is my analysis of that damage limitation exercise .

Following publication of the report the LGO naturally received damning criticism from many quarters not least from Simon Danczuk MP.

As expected the LGO once again tried to defend themselves by responding to the article written by Simon Danczuk MP and published in the Guardian. This is my analysis of that damage limitation exercise.

On the 7th September the LGO made a third damage limitation attempt. This is my analysis of that damage limitation exercise.

It is now nearly 3 months since the select committee published their report, which lead me to the question I asked in the title of this post.

Has the LGO improved since the select committee report? I would argue that the answer to that question is no.

Whilst there is no doubt the LGO have been busy with their evangelical agenda, for example in the month prior to the launch of the select committee inquiry into the Local Government Ombudsman they only highlight 1 case of wrongdoing, However, the month after they they highlighted 7 of wrongdoing.

Again in the month prior to the select committee report being published they highlighted only 1 case of wrongdoing but in the month after the damning criticism they highlighted 6 cases of wrongdoing.

In the following 7 weeks to date (12 October 2012)  they have highlighted 9 cases of wrongdoing.

Therefore, it appears to me that they only worry about reporting cases of wrongdoing when they are under the spotlight or have been criticised.

I have also been contacted by a number of people who have had dealings with the LGO since they were criticised by the select committee and a common thread in their complaints about the LGO is that the LGO investigators are still accepting the word of the council no matter how much evidence to the contrary is available.

I can only conclude that the LGO haven't improved because they are still using the devious practices they developed over the last 20 years or so which includes, smoke & mirrors, spin and bullshit to  to give the false impression they have improved.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Ombudsmen must join forces, says LGO Jane Martin

Read the full story from the source Public Service However, the paragraph that interests me is reproduced below.
Martin [Local Government Ombudsman] added: "We would be in favour of greater harmonisation of public sector ombudsmen in England, but we should be very purposeful about it and very clear about why we need to do things differently."
I can tell Ms Martin why they need to do things differently, as can the majority of complainants who have submitted complaints to the Local Government Ombudsman over the last 20 years. They are totally unfit for purpose.

This view was also recently reinforced when a government select committee essentially came to the same conclusion.

I can also hazard a guess at why they are in favour of greater harmonisation of public sector ombudsmen in England.

If you want to hide a tree you put it in a forest, therefore, it appears to me that Ms Martin wants to hide her unfit for purpose organisation among other unfit for purpose organisations such as the CQC. That way they are less likely to be identified as the worse ombudsmen in the world.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

LGO praise for Wirral Council? What a joke!

WATCHDOGS [The Local Government Ombudsman] have given Wirral Council top marks in their annual review.
Figures published by the Local Government Ombudsman show Wirral is the fastest Merseyside council in responding to complaints.
In her annual letter to the council, Ombudsman Anne Seex said: “I am pleased to say that I have no concerns about your authority’s response times and there are no issues arising from the complaints that I want to bring to your attention.”
The Ombudsman found no evidence of maladministration or injustice during an entire three-year period, from 2009 to date. [My emphasis]
Read the full story from the source Wirral Globe 
My comment: Yet an independent investigator over a similar period found the council was in the grip of a “corrosive” and “inward-looking culture where the needs and rights of residents had become submerged under its bureaucratic machinations. [my emphasis] Read the full story here.

Also read the three posts below [click on links] and decide for yourself if the Local Government Ombudsman is or isn't fit for purpose. If you reach the conclusion that they are indeed unfit for purpose you won't be alone because a recent select committee investigating the work of the Local Government Ombudsman also found them unfit for purpose. Read the full story here.

Wirral Council: Where was the Local Government Ombudsman?

Wirral Council and the Discredited Local Government Ombudsman.

Wirral Council: How many more scandals must we have before council officers are sacked?

Saturday, August 11, 2012

LGO taking steps to change. Why? Because they can no longer bury the truth

Background

The LGO had already responded to the panning the received from the Government select committee. Read my response to that here. You can also read the highlights of the panning they received here.

Following that Simon Danczuk (One of the select committee members) wrote an article for the Guardian about the LGO becoming pickled in aspic. Read his Guardian article in full  Local Government Ombudsman risks becoming 'pickled in aspic'

The chair of the Commission for Local Administration in England (CLAE) better known as the Local Government Ombudsman has now also responded to the criticism from Simon Danczuk MP.

The following is my analysis of the LGO's response to extracts from the Simon Danczuk article

As previously my comments in blue.

Responding to criticism from Simon Danczuk MP, the chair of the councils watchdog says it is opening itself up to public scrutiny. Why was it not already open to public scrutiny? They have been in existence for some 38 years.

The job of the local government ombudsman is to provide an independent means of redress to individuals for injustice caused by unfair treatment or a failure of duty by local authorities and care providers. A job they have demonstrably failed to do for the last 20 years or so.

More than a quarter of these decisions identified significant injustice and achieved redress. Restorative justice is our focus and we have achieved this for thousands of citizens across the country. More spin and propaganda from the LGO. Whilst more than a quarter identified significant injustice it is significantly lower percentage than other ombudsmen. In addition, the majority of those didn't achieve proper redress, the investigation was closed down when the Council offered the LGO a paltry settlement in order to stop the investigation and bury rather than report the fact that the council was guilty of maladministration. The complainant has no say in the matter, complaints are closed and settled between the LGO and the council.

But I am acutely aware that as a vital frontline public service we must continually strive to improve our performance and adapt and evolve as an organisation. I welcome the report from the Communities and Local Government Committee for underlining the need for us to be ready and willing to be held to account for the quality of our work. Strive to improve their performance? I doubt it could get much worse, reports findings of maladministration have dropped to an all time low. However, there has been an increase since they were panned by the select committee, so the select committee must have touched a nerve. 

I have set out four objectives: provide a complaints service direct to the public which is accessible, responsive, consistent and objective; ensure sound decisions and appropriate redress based on impartial, rigorous and proportionate investigations; use our knowledge of complaints to identify best practice, promoting good public administration and influencing public policy; and finally, proper stewardship of public funds. Wow, they have just decided to do something they should have been doing for the last 38 years.

Openness, transparency and accountability must be central to everything the ombudsman does. During the first quarter of next year we will publish a summary statement online of every decision we make. This will mean that all of our decision making is open to scrutiny. It will also enable citizens to make informed choices – on care providers, for example – and provide useful feedback to local councils and MPs. If Openness, transparency and accountability must be central to everything they do, why for the last 20 years or so have they been so secretive, opaque and unaccountable? Or have they just decided to be open, transparent and accountable because of the panning they received from the select committee.

Councils and citizens expect us to work openly; we will make sure we understand their perspective and that they help to shape our services. It's a bit late in the day for the LGO to start doing the job citizens have expected them to have been doing for the last 38 years. Furthermore, they will never understand a complainant's perspective until the start to talk to and listen to, rather than ignore, dissatisfied complainants. As I and others have proven, you ignore a dissatisfied complainant at your peril.

[For every customer who bothers to complain, 26 other customers remain silent. - The average "wronged customer" will tell 8-l6 people about it. Over 20% will tell more than 20. Source: Lee Resource Inc] And the odd one like me will tell thousands :-)

I believe we are now taking the necessary steps to transform the Local Government Ombudsman into an organisation which is well respected for meeting the needs and the expectations of the public. If the LGO want to transform, as they suggest they want to do, they could start by doing the following. 

STOP
- ignoring dissatisfied complainants.
- trying to justify stupid and irrational decisions.
- fiddling statistics to make themselves appear more effective than they are.
- manipulating customer satisfaction surveys by removing dissatisfied complainants.
- report all council wrongdoing as maladministration.
- accepting council statements without validation.
- the spin, propaganda and bullshit.
- sending out sycophantic annual review letters to councils, which just helps them bury wrongdoing.
- fiddling comebacks.
- fiddling compliance percentages.
- fabricating documents.
- colluding with councils.
- letting councils pull your strings.
- tinkering with remedies to make them more palatable to councils.
- ignoring council lies.
- ignoring potentially criminal and illegal activity identified during an investigation.
- using fallacious reasoning to support decisions.
- withholding the full reasoning/rationale behind decisions.
- recruiting staff who have difficulty understanding logical and rational arguments.

Only then will the Local Government Ombudsman meet the needs and expectations of the public. When that day comes or in the alternative the Government get rid of them altogether, my job will be done.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

CLG Committee Findings - The failings of the Local Government Ombudsman

For those who don't have the time to wade through all the documents regarding the recent Communities and Local Government Committee investigation into the work of the Local Government Ombudsman I have extracted below what I consider to be the highlights. (The bits that probably made the Local Government Ombudsman stock up on Imodium.]

For those who prefer to read all the documents click here.

2  The organisation and structure of the Local Government Ombudsman

[31] We found the LGO's reasoning for not publishing the 2011 Strategic Business Review in full unconvincing. We heard no good reason why the Review and summary were not published simultaneously. Staff at the LGO are understandably concerned about the future of the organisation and their jobs and can reasonably expect their senior managers to provide full information. Publishing a summary without the Review risks fuelling a perception that senior management are holding back unpalatable news and undermining staff morale.

[47] While the lack of progress in updating the 1999 Grant Memorandum may arise from the state of uncertainty since 2010, we consider it unacceptable that the LGO should not be clear about its relationship with, and responsibilities to, DCLG. We would go further to say that it is of particular importance in such a period that the relationship and responsibilities should be comprehensively and accurately defined. They can then be revised when the situation changes. We recommend that as a matter of urgency the Government finalise the arrangements for updating and superseding the 1999 Grant Memorandum.

[48] We recommend that the Commission institute an annual, independent staff survey and that it publish the results.

3  Handling of complaints

[52] We recommend that the LGO develop and publish a methodology for measuring levels of customer satisfaction to apply for the next ten years and, if possible, develop the methodology in partnership with other Ombudsmen in the British Isles. We also recommend that having developed the methodology the Commission carry out a survey in 2013 and triennially thereafter.

[57] An organisation, whose primary job is investigating and determining whether maladministration by others has taken place, must itself take care to avoid maladministration. If it does not, it will undermine its own role and credibility.

[58] We recommend that as part of any new timetabling arrangements complainants are always informed if there is going to be a delay.

[66] We welcome the publication of the LGO's decisions. Comprehensive publication will provide a body of precedents and standards, to guide not only local authorities but those considering making a complaint on the grounds of maladministration.

[67] We therefore recommend that the LGO, as part of its reorganisation set up a review of the arrangements for treating evidence in cases involving serious service failure, specifically to what extent the LGO's processes should be brought into line with judicial procedures such as full disclosure of all submissions, with, if necessary in sensitive cases, redactions of personal information.

[68] Where the mediated process results in an agreement we consider that, in the interests of transparency, these agreements should also be published by the LGO, if necessary in anonymised form.

[72] We recommend that the LGO working with the British and Irish Ombudsman Association bring forward arrangements to ensure that there is an annual evaluation of the LGO by an external, independent reviewer to ensure that it meets the criteria of independence, fairness, effectiveness, openness and transparency and accountability. We further recommend that the first review form part of the proposed reorganisation of the LGO and that the reviewer consider the matters we raise at paragraph 69 of this Report. The reviewer should be appointed by the end of this year and complete his or her work and publish it no later than Easter 2013.

Conclusions and recommendations

The Strategic Business Review

[3] We found the LGO's reasoning for not publishing the 2011 Strategic Business Review in full unconvincing. We heard no good reason why the Review and summary were not published simultaneously. Staff at the LGO are understandably concerned about the future of the organisation and their jobs and can reasonably expect their senior managers to provide full information. Publishing a summary without the Review risks fuelling a perception that senior management are holding back unpalatable news and undermining staff morale.

Commission staff survey

[11] We recommend that the Commission institute an annual, independent staff survey and that it publish the results.

Customer satisfaction

[12] We recommend that the LGO develop and publish a methodology for measuring levels of customer satisfaction to apply for the next ten years and, if possible, develop the methodology in partnership with other Ombudsmen in the British Isles. We also recommend that having developed the methodology the Commission carry out a survey in 2013 and triennially thereafter.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

My response to the LGO's response to the panning they received

The LGO published an initial response to the panning they received from MPs on the 17th July 2012. I have reproduced their response below together with my comments/additions in blue. 
LGO responds to Select Committee report 
Date Published: 17/07/12
The LGO welcomes today’s (17 July) report from the Communities and Local Government Committee, which pays tribute to the work of our staff during a particularly demanding period and welcomes plans to publish our decisions in the interests of openness.
That makes a change -  they have always been reluctant to give full details of their decision because it would allow complainants to contest the validity of their decisions. Many of which would not stand up to close scrutiny.
We also agree that some changes need to be made to the organisation, in order to ensure that we continue to modernise and provide a high quality service, whilst our budget is reduced by a third over the next few years.
Continue to provide a high quality service? The Local Government Ombudsman has not provided a high quality service since the mid nineties when they started to recruit ex council officers as ombudsmen. In addition until recently their budget had been increased significantly even though the service was going downhill. Therefore, they should have expected their budget to be cut in line with the poor service they now provide.
This is why we have been consulting on a comprehensive programme of change over the last 12 months, which can be fully implemented once the government provide the necessary authorisations.
Change that has been forced upon them because the service they provided was getting worse and worse and they demonstrably failed to do anything about it.  Other than manipulate their statistics and surveys in an attempt to give the false impression they were still doing a good job.
Our proposals have been discussed extensively with staff, government officials and others, and are available on the LGO website, along with the independent review which informed them.
But not with many complainants, their main customers
Jane Martin, Ombudsman and Chair, comments: “Our annual report published last week shows that LGO made 11,229 complaint decisions in 2011/12, an increase on previous years and a trend that we expect to continue.
Reports produced by themselves using their own dodgy statistics. [example 1] [example 2]
In more than a quarter of these cases, we identified significant injustice and obtained redress for the complainants concerned, many of whom were vulnerable individuals whose voices would have otherwise gone unheard.
The redress mentioned is on average a few hundred pounds so they can close down a complaint early which saves them having to conduct a full and proper investigation and issue formal reports finding maladministration against their ex colleagues.
We are acutely aware that this is an essential frontline service and welcome the scrutiny of the Committee to make sure that we are delivering it as efficiently as possible without compromising on quality.
They can't compromise on something they haven't had for years, which is a  quality service. 
We will be responding in detail to the Committee’s report over the coming weeks and hope it will be evident, when we have had the opportunity publish our response, that many of the recommendations have already been taken on board.”
LGO publishes its performance against time standards for handling complaints and these compare well with other Ombudsman schemes: last year we decided more than 55% of cases within 13 weeks; and 85% within 26 weeks.
Statistics which they produce themselves and are not independently audited. 
However, in rare situations, the complaint cannot be resolved within 52 weeks – usually due to the complexity of the issues involved or the need to accommodate other organisations’ processes.
Rubbish, in my own case the issues were very simple but it still took them 11 years (Mainly because they didn't appear to have the ability to think logically and rationally. Here is an example. ) and they still made a hash of the final decision because they based it on lies they accepted from the council without validation (Not an uncommon thing for the LGO to do).

In addition, if a case is dragging on they try their best to close it down and get the complainant to submit another. This is one way they improve their case duration statistics. With the added bonus of being able to count, what is essentially the same complaint, twice and on some occasions three or more times. They used at least five different complaint numbers during the period they were attempting to resolve my complaint. 

Therefore, do they handle as many cases as they suggest or do they churn a smaller number of cases to make themselves look much more effective than they actually are?
This is currently only around 0.5% of our cases and we are actively reviewing every individual case which falls into this category in order to check that we have done everything possible to achieve a satisfactory outcome. We will continue to publish our performance against time targets.
LGO has long been committed to using an independent research body to assess customer satisfaction, as an important part of our public accountability. 
Whilst they may use an independent research body to give an air of legitimacy to their customer satisfaction surveys they actually tell the body not to approach certain complainants which has on one occasion been close to 20% of their most dissatisfied complainants. Thus manipulating the outcome in their favour.
This provides us with independent feedback on how our customers experience our service, their views on different aspects of what we do and overall satisfaction.
They have known about their poor levels of customer satisfaction since the 90s and done nothing to improve them. One could, in light of the recent panning from MPs, legitimately argue they are now much worse. 
We certainly agree with the Committee that this should continue, and we will reflect on how this work, along with the evaluation of our own service and capturing the views of our staff, can best be developed in future.
They could make a start by surveying  representative groups and not omitting the most dissatisfied ones in an attempt to give the false impression they are better than they are.  

Monday, July 16, 2012

Select Committee Report Published

Please note: Whilst this blog post was prepared just before midnight on Monday 16th July it was only published at 00.05am on Tuesday 17 July 2012 in line with Communities and Local Government Committee embargo instructions.

MPs call on the Local Government Ombudsman to raise its game significantly 

To deliver its role as independent arbitrator in disputes about unfair treatment or service failure by local authorities, the Local Government Ombudsman must tackle operational inefficiencies rapidly and conduct its own activities with credible effectiveness, say MPs on the Communities and Local Government Committee.

Launching a report of a recent inquiry that looked closely at the role and efficacy of the Local Government Ombudsman, CLG Committee chair Clive Betts said,

“First and foremost, the LGO must implement the changes identified by the recent Strategic Business Review, so that it can live within its means while providing the service to the public that is required by the legislation and expected by taxpayer.

“LGO has been taking far too long to determine some cases. One of the Ombudsmen conceded that the delay in determining some cases was itself likely to amount to maladministration. This must raise questions about the LGO’s authority and credibility. The organisation needs to apply strict deadlines to all the cases that it handles.

“The LGO has also to develop a clear methodology to measure levels of customer satisfaction and publish the results every year. It must also put in place arrangements to ensure there is an annual evaluation of its own activities and decision making by an independent external reviewer, to ensure the LGO is itself fair, effective, open, transparent and accountable. Such a reviewer should be appointed by the end of this year and report for the first time no later than Easter 2013.

“Ministers must also take steps urgently to update the governance agreement – the so called ‘Grant Memorandum’ - that it has with the LGO so that the organisation can have a clear and comprehensive understanding of its relationship with, and responsibilities to, the Department for Communities and Local Government.”

In the report CLG committee concludes:

In future the LGO must be completely clear with all parties about the criteria it applies in order to determine whether cases are assigned to be resolved through a mediated process to achieve redress, or are allocated for full investigation and formal determination. Likewise the LGO must be transparent about the procedures that apply when any case is moved from one process to another – such as when
mediation fails.

The LGO management’s rationale for not publishing the 2011 Strategic Business Review in full was ‘unconvincing’ and suggests there may be insufficient appetite for change within the LGO.

The LGO must explain which findings from the Strategic Business Review will be implemented in full and in part, and provide a timetable for this in the response it makes to the Committee’s report.

The LGO needs to set out the arrangements and timetable for appointing the new Chief Operating Officer (and their responsibilities) in the response to the Committee’s report.

Government must explain how it will monitor the implementation of reorganisation at the LGO.

An annual, independent staff survey should be reinstated at the LGO with results published.

More info from the Committee's own website.

My Comment: More in a few days when I have fully digested the 90 page report but is certainly looks like someone has started to listen to all the criticism of the Local Government Ombudsman at long last.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Select Committee Report into the work of the Local Government Ombudsman

PUBLICATION OF REPORT

The work of the Local Government Ombudsman

The Communities and Local Government Committee will publish its Third Report of Session 2012–13, The work of the Local Government Ombudsman (HC 431), on Tuesday 17 July 2012 at 00.01am.
Advance copies of the report are available to witnesses under embargo, in electronic format only, from Monday 16 July at 10.00am. This is by request only. Requests should be made to clgcom@parliament.uk.

Media representatives may request a copy from the Media Officer at pearcehm@parliament.uk.
Following publication, the report will be posted on the internet on Tuesday 16 July 2012, and will be accessible via the Committee’s webpages.

Printed copies of the Report may be obtained, on publication, from the usual outlets, including The Parliamentary Bookshop and The Stationery Office (reference: Third Report of the Committee, Session 2012–13, HC 431).

FURTHER INFORMATION:

Committee Membership is as follows: Mr Clive Betts (Chair, Lab), Heidi Alexander (Lab), Bob Blackman (Con), Simon Danczuk (Lab), Bill Esterson (Lab), Stephen Gilbert (Lib Dem), David Heyes (Lab), George Hollingbery (Con), James Morris (Con) Mark Pawsey (Con) and Heather Wheeler (Con).

My Comment: Will it be as poor as the previous select committee report, which ignored the problems and did nothing to improve the system of administrative justice in England, or have they at last decided to improve (or better still get rid of)  the discredited Local Government Ombudsman once and for all? 

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Bristol City Council has admitted lying to the Local Government Ombudsman

Bristol City Council has admitted giving false information to a Government watchdog during a dispute with a persistent complainant.

The council unilaterally declared artist Graeme Robbins vexatious after he repeatedly complained about controversial temporary traffic lights outside his home.

It wrongly told the Local Government Ombudsman Mr Robbins had bombarded it with more than 300 emails during its attempts to get him off its back.

My comment: It is no surprise that a council has lied to the Local Government Ombudsman. let's face it they do it all the time. What is surprising is that the Local Government has for once actually reported the fact. However, very little appears to have been done to punish those who lied.

Read the full story from the source Westbury People

Monday, June 11, 2012

If the Local Government Ombudsman wasn't bad enough!

"Communities secretary Eric Pickles has chosen not to replace one of the three ombudsman and will instead appoint a chief officer who will take care of the day to day running of the organisation.
The government’s ‘open public services’ white paper outlined a role for the ombudsmen as providing services that support citizens’ needs with a particular emphasis on consumer champions.
Sir Tony Redmond, one of the three members of the Commission for Local Administration in England, retired in 2010. The two remaining ombudsmen - chair Dr Jane Martin and vice-chair Anne Seex - were questioned by the select committee this week about the changes. Committee chair Clive Betts (Lab) said that Mr Pickles’ proposed changes - which also include a “comprehensive” reduction in staff numbers and a refocus on cases involving serious service failures - were “hardly… a ringing endorsement of how the service had operated in the past”. [My emphasis]
Dr Martin insisted that the changes were necessary because of the 14% budget cuts the service had been dealt. However, she also later admitted that in some cases it had had taken up to a year for the ombudsman to reach a decision - a delay she conceded “probably” amounted to maladministration.
Mr Pickles has also expressed a wish to send the entire organisation to Coventry, as putting the commission on a single site would provide “best value for money”.
“We are committed throughout the period to consolidate, as far as we can, to the Coventry office,” she told the communities and local government select committee on Monday. “However, we will not rule out the possibility of having investigative staff, particularly, based in London and York, because we want to ensure that we retain the best investigative staff we can”."
My comment: How an earth can the Local Government Ombudsman [LGO] be considered consumer champions when they already bury nearly all local authority wrongdoings and report less than 1% of all cases as maladministration? A reduction in staff numbers, concentrating on serious service failurs will mean only one thing, the LGO will bury even more local authority wrongdoing that they do now. Looks to me like all Eric is interested in is saving money not improving they system of administrative justice.

"we want to ensure that we retain the best investigative staff we can”. What you mean the ones that just ring up the council, accept what they say and refuse to investigate properly? Which is what most appear to do!

Read the full story from the source Local Government Chronicle

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Wirral Council and the Discredited Local Government Ombudsman

Further to my earlier post, Wirral Council: Where was the Local Government Ombudsman?

Recent events have made the Local Government Ombudsman's position even worse.

Frank Field slams Wirral council higways contract ‘incompetence’

WIRRAL council was so incompetent “serious fraud was probably impossible to organise”, an MP claimed today. [my emphasis]

Birkenhead MP Frank Field spoke out following a watchdog’s damning report into the council's actions.

The public interest report by the district auditor looked into a multi-million pound highways contract which the council signed to save money.

It found the council was unable to show the contract actually provided value for money and also criticised the council’s technical services director David Green for meeting the winning contractor and then failing to fully declare an interest. Mr Green was suspended earlier this year while the auditor finished his report.

Mr Field, who asked the Audit Commission to investigate after being contacted by council whistleblowers, said: “I had come to believe the administration of the council was merely broken-backed. I was clearly far too optimistic.”

My comment: Good job he didn't ask the discredited Local Government Ombudsman to investigate for if he had they would have just buried the problem for Wirral Council as they have with many other of their wrongdoings over the years.

Read the full story from the source Liverpool Daily Post

Council director 'probably broke EU rules' over multi-million pound highways contract

A SENIOR Wirral Council officer met a private contractor months before his firm was awarded work with the local authority worth tens of millions of pounds.

An astonishing report published today by the Audit Commission concludes that David Green, the council's currently suspended Director of Technical Services, “probably” broke European Union Treaty rules by meeting with the company representative – and by further then failing to declare an interest when the contract was awarded.

It is the second time in six months the council has been seriously rebuked for failings in its corporate governance.

Last year independent consultant Anna Klonowski found that in Wirral, practices which would be viewed as abnormal in most other local authorities "had become seen as commonplace”. [my emphasis]

My comment: Over the previous six years the Local Government Ombudsman only ever found Wirral Council guilty of maladministration twice.  Yet in six months two other bodies not only find significant wrongdoing they also report abnormal practices. All going on over the six years the LGO was issuing glowing annual reports about Wirral Council.

Read the full story from the Wirral Globe

Wirral Council is going back to old ways

Many vulnerable people became casualties and had their lives devastated by the terrible happenings that took place that were ignored initially but then highlighted in the detailed AKA report. [my emphasis]

My comment: What would have happened if any of these vulnerable people had complained to the Local Government Ombudsman? Well if the Ombudsman's track record is anything to go by they would have been dismissed out of hand after a quick telephone call with the council.

Read the full letter from the source Wirral Globe

More background blog posts about Wirral Council here

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Local Government Ombudsman Oral Evidence

A recording of the Local Government Ombudsman's oral evidence to the select committee can be viewed here. Please view my earlier posts for the written evidence submitted to the select committee.

Having been present during the 2005 oral evidence session it would appear the current select committee  gave the Local Government Ombudsmen a much easer ride than the 2005 select committee did.

Which is rather surprising because there is significantly more evidence against the Local Government Ombudsman available today than there was in 2005. 

Another government select committee fail?

Monday, April 23, 2012

Written evidence re investigation into the LGO

Further to my last few posts the Communities and Local Government (CLG) have now published some of the written evidence submitted to the Department of Communities for Local Government select committee as part of their investigation into the Local Government Ombudsman.

You can download a complete PDF here

Some of the individual submissions are also available on line,
Just a pity they screwed some of the formatting up when converting from the format requested to the finished product.

As soon a they publish the outcome of the investigation I will post more details.

In the meantime if you are interested in seeing what evidence the 2005 select committee investigation into the Role and Effectiveness of the Local Government Ombudsman ignored download this PDF

One interesting point is that there is more damning evidence for the select committee to look at this time than there was in 2005. A not unexpected outcomes when you buried, rather than resolved, the problems you identified the first time round. 

Saturday, April 21, 2012

LGO, PHSO and the CLG Select Committee Investigation

Since my earlier post Inquiry into the Local Government Ombudsman which gave details of the then forthcoming Communities and Local Government Committee (CLG) inquiry into the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) we have had some rather interesting developments.

Firstly the CLG pre-empted the investigation by publishing the following on the 16th April 2012

Local government ombudsman to champion residents' cause Use the link to read in full, extracts of interest below.
A Chairman and Vice Chairman Ombudsman who will lead a more customer-focused Commission that champions the rights of redress for local residents were appointed today.
Acting Chairman Dr Jane Martin has been designated as Chairman of the Commission for Local Administration in England and Anne Seex as Vice-Chairman. Both are already performing Local Government Ombudsman roles. 
Creating a more streamlined Local Government Ombudsman will deliver a more cost effective organisation and make sure that the Ombudsman is well placed to provide services that support citizens' needs with a particular emphasis on consumer champions as envisaged in the Open Public Services White Paper.
The Minister for Local Government Grant Shapps said:
"I am delighted that Jane Martin and Ann Seex have taken up the task of leading the Local Government Ombudsman. I know they are determined to champion the rights of local residents. [my emphasis]
"The Local Government Ombudsman has a vital role to play in the community making sure people get swift and fair redress if things go wrong [my emphahsis] in the delivery of their local services."
Obviously the Minister for Local Government, Grant Shapps,  knows little, if anything, about the Local Government Ombudsman because if he did he wouldn't say such misleading things about them.

Even the LGO are on record stating that they are not people's champions. In addition everyone know that the Local Government Ombudsman don't do anything swiftly especially offer fair redress.

What I am concerned about is that in advance of the CLG select committee inquiry the Minister for Local Government is propagating LGO propaganda together with statements which appear to secure the future of the discredited LGO in spite of what the investigation may uncover and what the outcome may be.

In advance of the investigation the CLG has also published some evidence submitted by the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman. Use the link to read in full, extracts of interest below.
Written evidence submitted by the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman
In considering how the LGO operates both the LGO and the Department for Communities and Local Government should keep in mind the British & Irish Ombudsman Association’s (BIOA) five key criteria for membership:
· Independence
· Fairness
· Effectiveness
· Openness and Transparency
· Accountability
· the arrangements for handling complaints
Conducting joint investigations enable us to tell the full story. 
Most complainants know they are not independent, fair, effective, open and transparent nor accountable but may not know how they managed to fiddle membership of the British and Irish Ombudsman Association (BIOA).  The answer is because they were founder members of the BIOA and as such would hardly exclude themselves even if they didn't meet the criteria.

The PHSO also suggests that conducting joint investigations enables them to tell the full story. However, they didn't do that when they both investigated the Balchin's case. They left out the fact that the LGO was at fault many years earlier for terminating their investigation after accepting the word of a Council CEO during a telephone call in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

I can only conclude from the above that the LGO, PHSO and CLG prefer to keep the current corrupt system of administrative justice in England, and that the select committee investigation is, as was the one in 2005, just another exercise to prop up a corrupt and not fit for purpose system .

Coming soon, the story behind my decision not to give oral evidence to this sham select committee investigation.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Local Government Ombudsman recommendations rejected

SOUTH Holland District Council has refused to pay compensation to a developer following a planning wrangle.

A Local Government Ombudsman had recommended Nestwood Homes receive more than £250,000 after maladministration by the council in the way it dealt with a development in Old Main Road, Fleet, dating back to 2006.

But councillors stuck by a decision they made in December not to pay up because to do so could result in an eight per cent hike in council tax for the district.

My comment: This can't have come at a worse time for the Local Government Ombudsmen who recently have  been pursuing a campaign of positive publicity in advance of the forthcoming select committee investigation. (See my previous post for more information regarding this)

This also ruins their constant efforts to manipulate events so they can argue they have a 100% compliance rate.  As does this and many other cases over the years including the well publicised Trafford case. They have also declined to support their claims with proof

Furthermore, I have first hand experience of how easy it is for the LGO to fiddle their statistics. They made recommendations to my council in 1998 following a finding of maladministration leading to injustice. However, the council did not fulfil all the recommendations yet the LGO compliance statistics suggested they had. How did they manage this smoke and mirrors illusion? 

All the LGO have to so to avoid having to issue a second report, which would highlight none compliance and also damage their reputation, is to state they are satisfied with what the council has done. Hey presto, no second report and no damaged reputation even though a council may not have provided the recommended remedy. 

A Comment from below the article also raises an interesting point "...what value does the ombudsman bring to the process if their findings can be ignored."

Read the full story from the source Spalding Today

Friday, February 24, 2012

Inquiry into the Local Government Ombudsman.

The Communities and Local Government Committee has launched an inquiry into the Local Government Ombudsman.

The committee said it would take oral evidence from the Ombudsman after Easter on its 2011 annual report and on its activities.

MPs on the committee have invited submissions from interested parties on the LGO’s work.

The call for evidence asks for submissions to cover issues such as:
The function, purpose and remit of the LGO, including the proposed restructuring of the Commission; 
The volume and nature of complaints made to the LGO and expected trends; 
The arrangements for handling complaints;
The adequacy of redress when maladministration is found;
The impact of the extension of jurisdiction to include complaints from those who arrange or fund their own adult social care;
The impact of the LGO's work on local authorities, particularly whether it leads to better administration and improved quality of service;
The LGO's Strategic Corporate Plan and business plan; and
The LGO's management of staff, resources and budgets.
The CLG committee stressed that the inquiry would not look at individual cases considered or before the LGO, nor its handling of particular cases.

It has asked for submissions to be made by 4 pm on 23 March 2012.

Each submission should:
be no more than 4,000 words in length; 
begin with a short summary in bullet point form; 
be in Word format with as little use of colour or logos as possible; and 
be accompanied by a covering letter or email containing the name and contact details of the individual or organisation submitting evidence.
A copy of the submission should be sent by e-mail to clgev@parliament.uk and marked "Building Regs (SIC)". (My comment: Obviously they shouldn't be marked Building Regs, I think the DCLG just copied and pasted this by mistake from another inquiry, I intend marking mine 'Inquiry into the LGO')

It is helpful, for Data Protection purposes, for contact details not to be included in the text of submissions, but sent separately in a covering letter. You should be aware that there may be circumstances in which the House of Commons will be required to communicate information to third parties on request, in order to comply with its obligations under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

A guide for written submissions to Select Committees may be found on the parliamentary website.

My comment: Download a guide here PDF.

Please also note that:

Material already published elsewhere should not form the basis of a submission, but may be referred to within a proposed memorandum, in which case a hard copy of the published work may be included.

Memoranda submitted should be kept confidential until formally accepted by the Committee. The Committee has authorised the publication by witnesses of their evidence, but such publication should await the formal acknowledgement of acceptance of the submission as evidence to the Committee.
Once submitted, evidence is the property of the Committee.

The Committee normally, though not always, chooses to make public the written evidence it receives, by publishing it on the internet (where it will be searchable), by printing it or making it available through the Parliamentary Record Office.

If there is any information you believe to be sensitive you should highlight it and explain what harm you believe would result from its disclosure. The Committee will take this into account in deciding whether to publish or further disclose the evidence. Read more here

My comment:  I, together with a number of colleagues, will be submitting evidence on behalf of Ombudsman Watch, Public Service Ombudsman Watchers, The Ombudsman Watchers Resource Centre and myself as a Local Government Ombudsman Watcher. 

However, I would urge all complainants who have suffered further injustice because of the Local Government Ombudsman and the corrupt system of administrative justice they operate to consider sending a submission of their own. 

Please note that the committee can not and will not get involved with or consider individual cases. In addition please try and keep your submission as clear and concise as possible. 

Together we may be able to improve the system of administrative justice in England
for the benefit of all complainants.


Footnote: A list of committee members can be found here 

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The LGO: One rule for complainants and one for MPs

Ombudsman agrees to look into Age UK grievance against council following MP's intervention,

A local government watchdog has reversed its decision not to investigate Watford Borough Council over the Age UK Hertfordshire saga following intervention by the area’s MP.

The Local Government Ombudsman will now look into a complaint by Age UK that it has been "defamed" by the authority following the acrimonious fallout between the pair over a £500,000 repairs bill.

Originally, Age UK Hertfordshire was told by the watchdog that it would have to pursue its grievance against the council through the courts.

However Watford MP Richard Harrington then wrote to the ombudsman saying he felt it was inappropriate for the charity to go down an expensive legal route and asked the organisation to clarify its position.

 Mr Harrington said: "I was pleased to receive the letter from the ombudsman in response to my letter to them to discuss avenues through which Age UK can be represented.

"I am satisfied with the response from the ombudsman clarifying that the charity is able to take recourse through the ombudsman as I feel is proper for charities who cannot afford to pursue cases through the courts.

My comment: Most complainants can't afford to pursue their cases through the courts but the Ombudsman still rejects them. Whilst I have every sympathy with the charity many complainants, who's complaints have been rejected by the Ombudsman, have suffered from much more serious injustice than defamation. This is a clear case of one rule for the ordinary complainant and another for a charity supported by an MP. 

The Ombudsman should treat every complaint the same not give MPs special treatment. In addition MPs should support all complainants who can't afford to pursue their complaints through the courts and not pick and choose those which are likely to give them the maximum possible positive publicity.

Read the full story from the source Watford Observer

Suicidal man's compensation from council 'nonsense'

A SUICIDAL resident forced into bankruptcy by Torbay Council over an unpaid council tax bill has described his compensation offer of £1,000 as a 'nonsense'.

The council has made the £1,000 offer despite Ombudsman recommendations that it should pay the man £25,000 after a report last year found wrongdoing by Torbay Council.

The case went before South West ombudsman Dr Martin in May.

My comment: Yet another council that ignores the recommendations of a Local Government Ombudsman. And another case that illustrates the length of time it takes for the Ombudsman to get of their backsides and do something.

Read the full story from the source This is South Devon

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Replacement LGO: Chronology of delay

27th January 2012: Still no replacement for Tony Redmond.

When Tony was recruited during 2001 they knew he would be retiring during 2010, however, some 15 months after he left there is still no indication of when his replacement will start. If it takes the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) so long to recruit a replacement LGO no wonder the country is in such a mess.

See below for a chronology of delay and DCLG excuses.

19th December 2011: So Where is Tony Redmond's replacement?

Tony Redmond, Local Government Ombudsman and Chair of the Commission for Local Administration in England retired on the 11th November 2010.

Historically a replacement is recruited before an existing LGO retires, however, This is the second time they have not recruited a replacement Ombudsman until well after their predecessor left.

Rumours  suggest that his replacement was selected long ago but no date has been given when they will take up post.

At least they won't be able to pick up any bad habits from their predecessor. 

1st July 2011: Tony Redmond's replacement UPDATE

We have now received more information from the DCLG in response to a request for an internal review of an earlier FOI request.

1. The interviews were held on 15 February 2011.
2. 25 candidates applied for the post and four were interviewed.
3. The Department does not currently hold information on the planned date for the successful candidate to take up office.
4. The final selection has not yet taken place.

However, it still doesn't explain why they took so long to start the recruitment process. Especially since they knew Tony Redmond was going to retire in November 2010 when he was recruited in 2001.

I think there is still an unknown reason for the extraordinary delay. 

24th May 2011: So Where is Tony Redmond's replacement?

Tony Redmond, LGO London office and Chair of the Commission for Local Administration for England retired in November 2010.

The Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) knew he was going to retire in 2010 when he was recruited in 2001. So they had plenty of time to recruit a replacement well before he retired. However, for some unknown reason they didn't.

When asked why the hadn't begun recruiting a replacement well before he retired the DCLG stated that the couldn't because of the 2010 general elections. However, the reason given can't be true because Anne Seex was recruited in 2005 and just as in 2010 there was a general election in 2005.

My wife (part time assistant) submitted a second Freedom of Information in an attempt to root out the truth.

"Dear Department for Communities and Local Government, Please provide any and all information held about the recruitment of a replacement for Tony Redmond, Local Government Ombudsman and Chair of the Commission for Local Administration, who retired some 6 months ago. Or in the alternative any and all information held which would explain why he is not going to be replaced."

Whatever information they now supply can't mitigate the fact that they clealry provided misleading information in their response to her first FOI request.

Something I am personally going to pursue. Looks like the DCLG , like the LGO, are another body that doesn't like telling the full story.

"Dear Department for Communities and Local Government, You have previously gone on record stating that the reason you couldn't recruit a replacement Local Government Ombudsman in 2010 was because it was during an election year. However, Anne Seex LGO  was recruited in 2005 which was also during an election year.

Therefore, I would like a copy of any policy/guidance changes between 2005 and 2010 that would explain the anomaly. Or if you prefer a better reason for not recruiting a replacement Local Government Ombudsman during 2010."

21st October 2010: Advert for Tony Redmond's replacement

An outstanding opportunity exists to lead the further development of the Local Government Ombudsman service in England. 'We are looking for a person of the highest calibre with a significant track record of achievement to fill the role of Chair of the Commission for Local Administration in England and Local Government Ombudsman.

The Commission comprises three Local Government Ombudsmen and the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman. The successful applicant will have responsibility for investigating alleged maladministration and service failure by local authorities and certain other public bodies. The Local Government Ombudsman’s jurisdiction has also recently been expanded to adult social care self funders.

As Chair and Local Government Ombudsman you will also have a key role in overseeing and directing the Commission’s Public Value strategy. Much of this activity focuses on improving local authority service provision and developing sound complaints handling arrangements. As Chair you will also play a leading role in advising the Commission in the development and implementation of the strategic and corporate planning for the organisation.

This high profile role demands strong leadership skills and the highest standards of integrity and sound judgement. Candidates must demonstrate high intellectual capacity and an ability to assimilate complex information.'

In the final candidate pack it states 'Tony Redmond leaves office on 11 November 2010, and his successor is now sought. It is aimed to appoint a new Ombudsman by the end of March 2011.'

This is the second time they have not recruited a replacement Ombudsman until well after their predecessor left.  Whilst during 2005 they recruited Anne Seex well before Pat Thomas left so she could learn the ropes this didn't happen when Jerry White left last year. Dr Jane Martin didn't start until well after he left. The same now appears to apply to Tony Redmond, his replacement not starting for nearly five months after he leaves.

Friday, January 06, 2012

It's not just the LGO that accept council lies

It is a well known fact that the Local Government Ombudsman will accept the word of a council without validation, however, a recent expose by Sky News has proven that they are not the only watchdog to allow councils to pull the wool over their eyes.

Read the full story on my other blog.