Thursday, January 31, 2008

Maladministration pays!

There is a maxim in law that suggests that no one should be able to profit from their wrong. Whilst this maxim is upheld by civil and criminal courts it is ignored by Local Government Ombudsmen and the administrative justice system in this country.

Can you imagine the effect on crime if judges allowed criminals to profit from crime? Could you ever accept a situation in which a criminal is found guilty of stealing £100,000 but allowed to keep it!

Well this is exactly what happens with administrative justice in this country. Trafford Council essentially stole £100,000 from a family. What the Council did was to make a family pay for a service they should have been paying for (maladministration by any stretch of the imagination). This saved the Council £100,000 over three years. The Local Government Ombudsman found the Council guilty of maladministration (well they had little option because the evidence was overwhelming) and suggested that the Council should reimburse the family the £100,000. However, the Council refused to reimburse the money and there is not a lot the Local Government Ombudsman can do about it. The Local Government Ombudsman has been aware of this problem for over thirty years but still refuses to ask the Government to improve the situation.

Proof that maladministration pays and that Local Government Ombudsmen are happy to support such an unfair and unjust administrative justice
system.

There is very little chance of a council being found guilty of maladministration in the first place (less than 1% of all submitted complaints) but even in the tiny minority of cases when the Council is found guilty of maladministration they are free to ignore both the Ombudsman's suggested remedy and their promises to the Ombudsman.

No wonder maladministration is out of control in this country and complainants are so dissatisfied. It's a good job that Councils have a Local Government Ombudsman who is willing to bury so much maladministration for them.

Monday, January 21, 2008

A simple comparison

Submit a complaint to the Local Government Ombudsman and you may just be one of the lucky few complainants who obtain justice, however, your chances are not that great.

Whilst, the Parliamentary Ombudsman finds national authorities guilty of maladministration in 67% of all complaints submitted to her, Local Government Ombudsmen, for some unexplained reason, only find local authorities guilty of maladministration in less than 1% of all complaints submitted to them. (Even when the Local Government Ombudsmen fiddle their figures by excluding some of the complaints the best they can achieve is about 29%.)

Do local authorities commit four times less maladministration than national authorities? I doubt it. Are the investigators working for the Parliamentary Ombudsman better than those working for the Local Government Ombudsman? I doubt it.

So why do Local Government Ombudsmen prefer to use the techniques illustrated in my last six posts to bury much of the maladministration they should be uncovering?

Many people think it's because all Local Government Ombudsman used to work in local authorities as did many of their staff, however, there could be another reason. Please post your thoughts on the public forum.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Linguistic Gymnastics

Yet another tactic used by LGO investigators is linguistic gymnastics.

Here are a couple of examples;

On the rare occasion when they want to find a local authority guilty of maladministration they will often state that the local authority failed to follow guidelines or a code of practice. (Either their own or those produced by other bodies). However, when they don't want to find maladministration they will argue that the guideline or code of practice can be ignored with impunity.

Again on the rare occasions when they want to find a local authority guilty of maladministration they interpret statutes correctly. However, when they don't want to find a local authority guilty of maladministration they use linguistic gymnastics as a means of hiding the fact that a local authority has breached a statute.

Inconvenient Facts

An 'inconvenient fact' is a fact that would be difficult for an investigator to refute without their fallacious arguments becoming obvious and making them look stupid.

To overcome an inconvenient fact an LGO investigator often ignores it. Hence they will usually use a combination of fallacious arguments (see my previous four postings for examples) and ignored facts to achieve a finding of no maladministration when they are confronted with a act of maladministration they prefer to bury.

The most common method used by LGO investigators is to break a complaint down into its constituent parts. Then using various fallacious arguments they chip away at these until the only thing left are the 'inconvenient facts'. All they do then is ignore these and reconstitute the complaint using the fallacy of composition and the straw man fallacy. Hey-presto a complaint that will give them the outcome they want.

To make it more difficult for complainants to understand what they have done they will often use further fallacious arguments such as 'arumentum verbosium' and 'Ignoratio Elenchi, that's bags of waffle with a red herring thrown in for good measure to you and me.



Fallacy of Composition

An LGO investigator commits the second type of fallacy of Composition when they concluded that what is true of the constituent parts of a complaint must be also true of the whole complaint without there being adequate justification for the claim.

An investigator often breaks up a complaint into a number of its constituent parts, then wrongly argues that because there is no evidence of maladministration in the individual parts there can be no evidence of maladministration in the complaint as a whole.

Friday, January 18, 2008

The Straw Man

A straw man argument is set up by an LGO investigator when they do the following:

  1. Present a misrepresentation of the complainant's position that they then refute, thus giving the appearance that the complainant's actual position has been refuted.
  2. Quote a complainant's words out of context -- i.e., choosing a quotation that is not representative of the complainant's actual intentions.
  3. Over simplify a complainant's argument into a simple analogy that they then refute.
Essentially they do this to create a complaint that's easier for them to bury, then attribute that complaint to the complainant because they can't refute the complainant's actual complaint.

Ignoratio Elenchi

Ignoratio Elenchi ( irrelevant conclusion) -When an LGO investigator diverts attention away from a fact in dispute rather than address it directly.

Sometimes referred to as a 'red herring'.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Argumentum verbosium

Argumentum verbosium - a rhetorical technique used by LGO investigator's that tries to persuade by overwhelming the complainant with such a volume of material that their supporting argument sounds plausible, superficially appears to be well-researched, and it is so laborious to untangle and check supporting facts that they hope their conclusion will go unchallenged.

It is the fallacy epitomised by the familiar quote:

"If you can't dazzle them with your brilliance, then baffle them with your bullshit. "

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.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Justice?

The Ombudsman issued a report today. The report makes it quite clear that the council did not agree with, or accept, an Ombudsman's recommendations. Which other Tribunal or Court allows a defendant to ignore their findings? Can you imagine a criminal saying to a judge, I am not serving the 20 years you decided I should serve because I don't agree with you! Where's the justice in that? This makes a mockery of administrative justice in the UK and that's why the system needs changing. Having said that I congratulate Mrs Seex on issuing a second report because that's something her predecessor avoided at all costs. Just a pity the complainant suffers either way.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

LGO V IPSOS MORI

Who do you believe?

South Bucks District Council

The Cabinet considered a report of the Chief Executive presenting the Ombudsman’s annual statistics on complaints.

'From the Ombudsman’s annual letter it could be seen that the number of complaints had again fallen and no fault was found against the Council with any of the complaints referred. The Ombudsman states that it is a significant achievement to halve the number of complaints, from which he had concluded that “the Council’s own complaints procedure is working effectively”.

This was in contrast to the results of the recent IPSOS-MORI survey findings where a random survey of respondents gave South Bucks a relatively poor rating in terms of handling complaints. Satisfaction levels at 30% were distinctly lower than the average for Districts.'

So who is right and who is wrong, the Ombudsman or IPSOS MORI and the residents of South Bucks?

The answer is quite simple, the Ombudsman's own customer satisfaction levels were even worse than South Bucks when MORI last conducted a survey for them (1999) so I suppose the Ombudsman thinks 30% is actually quite good.

We are still waiting for the Ombudsman to publish the results of their 2007 survey. The latest figures should tell us a lot about the Local Government Ombudsman and MORI.