Monday, July 20, 2009

The truth is out!

Introduction

Evidence proving that Nigel Karney, Deputy Chief Executive & Secretary of the Commission for Local Administration in England (CLAE), more commonly known as Local Government Ombudsmen (LGO), provided misleading information to the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) regarding the LGOs true compliance rates for the year 2007/8.

Background summary

A few years ago Wilma Wright submitted a complaint to the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) because Trafford Council had not fulfilled its statutory obligations regarding her daughter’s special housing needs. Eventually the York based LGO, Ann Seex, found in her favour (an extremely rare event as Mrs Seex produces very few findings of maldministration), and recommended a remedy for the maladministration she had found Trafford Council guilty of committing. Unfortunately for Wilma Wright and her daughter Trafford Council refused to provide the remedy recommended by Mrs Seex. (as many other councils have also done) [Refer to appendix 1 at the end for more information about the relationship between Trafford Council and Mrs Seex]
As a result of Trafford Council’s failure to provide the remedy recommended by Mrs Seex and lacking the financial support necessary to take legal action or seek a judicial review, Mrs Wright decided to petition the Prime Minister to make the recommendations of a Local Government Ombudsman mandatory. [Refer to appendix 2 at the end for more information.]

Mrs Wright’s petition managed to achieve the appropriate number of signatures to guarantee a response from the Prime Minister's office. Unfortunately, the response from the Prime Minister's office included a material inaccuracy. It wrongly stated that the LGO’s compliance rate, during 2007/8, was 100%. The Prime Minister's office response was not only blatantly wrong, it was downright ridiculous because, as anyone could see, Mrs Wright’s petition would not have existed if the LGO’s compliance rate was 100%. [Refer to appendix 3 at the end for more information]

My investigation

Having helped Wilma Wright with her petition and as a signatory I was incensed at the Prime Minister's office response of the 27th March 2009 for two reasons. Firstly, the material inaccuracy and secondly, the fact that nobody who had actually read the petition, would have ever suggested that the LGO’s compliance rates were 100%. How could they be 100% when the Prime Minister's Office was responding to a petition that was based on the non compliance of an LGO’s recommended remedy? [Refer to appendix 4 at the end for more information.]

Therefore, I decided to do something about the situation and chose to use the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act to track down the person responsible for the material inaccuracy in the Prime Minister's office response to Wilma Wright’s petition. To make the whole process transparent I also decided to use the excellent What Do They Know website to submit my requests.
On the 1st April 2009 my first FOI request was submitted to Number 10. They responded on the 1st May 2009 and stated that the wrong information had been provided by the Department of Communities and Local Government.

On the 1st May 2009 my second FOI request was submitted to the DCLG. They responded on he 3rd June 2009 and stated that the wrong information had been provided by the Local Government Ombudsman.

On the 3rd June 2009 my third FOI request was submitted to the LGO. They responded on the 26th June 2009 and stated that they had supplied documents to the DCLG during May 2008 showing that during 2007/8 they didn't have a 100% compliance rate. (Conveniently ignoring the fact that Nigel Karney, a senior member of their staff, had, during November 2008, sent an email response to the DCLG wrongly confirming that the LGO had a 100% compliance rate for the period 2007/8.)
On the 26th June 2009 my fourth FOI request was submitted to the DCLG. They responded on the 16th July and stated that Mr Nigel Karney, Deputy Chief Executive & Secretary of the Commission for Local Administration in England had, in an email of the 11th November 2008, confirmed that the LGO’s compliance rate was 100%.

On the 16th July 2009 my Fifth FOI request was submitted to the LGO but just after I had submitted it I received a belated supplementary response from the LGO to my third FOI request. In this response they attach a copy of the email that they had previously overlooked proving that Mr Nigel Karney, Deputy Chief Executive & Secretary of the Commission for Local Administration in England had responded to the DCLG and confirmed that their compliance rates were 100%.
The email and response in question

*********************************************************************************
Email from Stephen McAllister DCLG to Nigel Karney CLAE, 11 November 2008 11:49 AM [Refer to appendix 5 at the end for more information]

Nigel,

I'm drafting a response to a number 10 e petition requesting that the Ombudsman's recommendations for authorities be binding.

[Paragraph not related to the % omitted]

I believe that the compliance rate with recommendations was 100% in 2006-2007.
Do you have a figure for what it was in 2007-2008? [my emphasis]

Regards, Steve McAllister

Response from Nigel Karney, November 11, 2008 5:23 PM
Stephen

The compliance rate in 2007/08 was also 100%. [my emphasis]

[Paragraphs not related to the % omitted]

Regards, Nigel

*********************************************************************************
Summary
After nearly 4 months, and five FOI requests I manage to track down the culprit who was responsible for the wrong and misleading response by the Prime Minister's office to Wilma Wright’s petition. The culprit was Nigel Karney Deputy Chief Executive & Secretary of the Commission for Local Administration in England.

He told the DCLG that the LGO's compliance rate for 2007/8 was 100% when it wasn't!

Appendix 1: Trafford Council also wrote to the Commission for Local Administration in England (CLAE), the official name of the three English Local Government Ombudsmen, and demanded that in future another Ombudsman should investigate complaints about Trafford Council. The CLAE agreed and the Coventry Ombudsman took over the responsibility for investigating complaints against Trafford Council.

Appendix 2: The public are not generally aware that councils are free to ignore Local Government Ombudsmen with impunity. However, more Councils ignore Mrs Seex than any other Local Government Ombudsman.

Appendix 3: Mrs Wright’s case is not an isolated incidence. Over the last 10 years a significant number of Councils have failed to provide the remedy recommended by a Local Government Ombudsman. Unfortunately the LGO utilise a number of tactics to reduce the true level of non compliance ever becoming public knowledge. The most commonly used tactic is when they state they are satisfied with a remedy even when a much lesser remedy (or on occasions none at all) has been provided. Another is when they renegotiate the remedy with the Council making it easier for a Council to comply.

Appendix 4: This rather proves that Number 10 cannot be bothered to read petitions properly before responding to them.

Appendix 5: Note that Stephen McAllister was asking for information from the LGO 3days after Wilma Wrights petition had closed yet it took until the 27th March 2009 for the Prime Ministers office to respond to her petition.

No comments:

Post a Comment