Sunday, January 13, 2008

Why money rather than the sack?

As identified in my earlier posting Justice , one of the main problems with the current system of administrative justice is the financial cost to the Public Authority should a Local Government Ombudsman find maladministration. This is one of the reasons why Local Government Ombudsmen prefer to bury rather than find maladministration in the first place. However, for various reasons, some maladministration just can't be buried so the Ombudsman's next tactic is to award a paltry settlement to the complainant instead. The reason they do this is also illustrated in the Justice posting. If they award anything like a reasonable settlement there's a good chance that the Public Authority, as Trafford Council did in this case, will just ignore the Ombudsman's suggested remedy, When this happens it just proves how impotent the Local Government Ombudsmen really are. A fact they (and the government) normally prefer to keep well hidden from the public.

So at the moment the system of administrative justice in this country also has the hidden objective of saving Public Authorities from the financial consequences of their own maladministration. The reason they have this objectives is quite clear, if Trafford Council paid the money the Ombudsman suggested questions would be asked by local taxpayers. The first one would be, why do we have to pay higher local taxes just because some idiot in the council can't do their job properly? Pressure would be put on local councillors to improve the competence of the executive staff and that would result in the idiots who made the mistake in the first getting the sack, or at least being severely disciplined. Something that happens in private companies all the time but is sadly lacking in Public Authorities.

Here's an example that would have led to the individual concerned being summarily dismissed if they worked for a private company but didn't even lead to a slap on the wrist for the council officer concerned. A council officer went to see a council tenant but unfortunately the tenant was out. Rather than waiting for the tenant to return home or rescheduling their visit for another day the council officer told the Police that the tenant had a history of collapsing and they were concerned over their welfare. The Police broke into the tenants home and found nobody there. When the tenant returned home the council officer was waiting for them. How would you feel if you returned home to find a council officer waiting for you after gaining entry to your home by lying to the police. The tenant's doctor later confirmed that the tenant did not have a history of collapsing which proved beyond a shadow of doubt that the council officer was lying. If the person concerned worked for a private company they would have been dismissed, however, they didn't, they worked for a Local Authority so everything was done, not only to bury the council officer's maladministration, but to turn the tables on the tenant and make them out as being in the wrong. It's no wonder this tenant suffers from ill health.

There are parallels to my own complaint in that a great amount of effort has been made by the Local Authority and the Ombudsman's office concerned to bury the maladministration of Council officers and rewrite history to make me out as the one being in the wrong and the Local Authority as whiter than white. All to save the Local Authority from the financial consequences of the wrongful acts of their officers.

However, things can go wrong when an Ombudsman tries to help a Local Authorities bury rather than face up to acts of maladministration. In my case the Local Authority has always had a reasonably low cost solution to their problem but they were so confident in the Ombudsman's ability to bury the problem for them altogether they didn't bother with that option. Unfortunately for them I am no mug and in my case the Ombudsman is not in a position to bury the problem for them. So it looks like they will have to face the alternative which is substantial court costs and damages. Even the Local Government Ombudsman can't help them when it gets to court. Let them explain those levels of costs to the councillors and local taxpayers and let the Local Government Ombudsman explain their involvement over the last 11 years.

For many complaints there is another way that doesn't involve money, so the local taxpayer doesn't have to pick up a substantial bill for the wrongful acts carried out by unscrupulous staff in Local Authorities.

What the Ombudsman should be recommending is that the person concerned is sacked or disciplined for the act of maladministration rather than asking the Local Authority to pay compensation for the wrongful acts of their staff. Make the member of staff concerned pay for their own mistakes not local taxpayers. That's exactly what happens in private companies. I appreciate that a change in the law would be needed but that is not an insurmountable problem. In fact it is something that Local Government Ombudsmen should be lobbying for rather than continually trying to bury maladministration just so they can save local taxpayers money.

As far as the example I gave above is concerned the Council Officer who lied to the Police should be sacked but whilst the Local Government Ombudsman is responsible for investigating complaints this will never happen. They prefer to operate a system in which the perpetrators get away virtually scot free.

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