Thursday, September 24, 2009

LGO: More ways to reduce investigations?

It has come to my attention that the LGO are now sending out letters to complainants using the cost of investigation their complaint as an additional factor for not doing so.

The LGO already use their discretion not to investigate if they don't think a complainant has suffered enough injustice to warrant an investigation. They also use their discretion not to investigate a complaint if they don't think the maladministration is bad enough to warrant an investigation.

Read more about this here and here and then read this which proves this is a new(ish) phenomenon.

However, it would now appear that they are also using their discretion not to investigate a complaint if it is going to cost them too much money to do so. That means that complainants need to suffer a substantial amount of injustice through a serious act of council maladministration that can be investigated on the cheap before the LGO will investigate your complaint.

I have submitted a Freedom of Information request to identify when this insidious policy started.

I would like to know on what date,

1) the Commission for Local Administration in England started to factor in the likely cost of an investigation into their decision whether to investigate a complaint or not?

2) you made the department of Communities and Local Government aware that you were no longer deciding to investigate complaints based on merit alone?

3) you made complainants aware that the decision to investigate their complaint would no longer be made on merit alone?

Here is an existing LGO policy designed to save money

Even if a complainant manages to get through the above and persuade the LGO to investigate all they usually do is ring up the council and ask them if they have done anything wrong. If the council say no the LGO refuses to investigate further. Don't believe me? Well that is what they did in the famous Balchins case in 1999 and they did it to me when I submitted my second complaint during 2002. I even have a letter from an Assistant Ombudsman who argues there is nothing wrong with that approach. More here

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Persistently unreasonable LGO FOI officer?

On the 18th September I started to write an on-line Freedom of Information request which I intended to send to the LGO via the What Do They Know website. Unfortunately, due to a computer glitch together with a fault on the What Do they Know website, the FOI request was submitted to the LGO before I had finished drafting it.

I immediately contacted the WDTK website, they acknowledged a fault with the website and marked this particular FOI request as withdrawn. I also sent the LGO a follow up note to the withdrawn request using the WDTK website.

Please ignore this particular FOI request. A final version of this draft FOI request has now been submitted and can be read here. (This linked to the final version of my Freedom of Information request I had just submitted.)

Unfortunately the LGO had some difficulty understanding the situation and sent the following message in response to the FOI request I had clearly withdrawn. (This was the one marked by the WDTK website as withdrawn until the LGO reactivated it by sending a response.)

You have sent three messages with the same title. In the message below you refer to a draft FOI request on the 'whatdotheyknow' website. If you wish to submit a request to us, please do so - I don't intend to look at 'draft' requests elsewhere.

So as things stand, I will not respond further to any of these three messages (the other two are attached).

In response I sent the following message

I have NOT submitted three versions of this request. I was in the process of writing this FOI request when their was a glitch on the website. Therefore, I withdrew this request and submitted a final version. I have made the position very clear so if you fail to respond to the other Freedom of Information request on this subject I will submit a complaint to the Information Commissioner.

In response I received the following message, again to the FOI request I had withdrawn.

You HAVE submitted three emails with the same title. I want to be sure I am responding to the right one. Your third email suggested I look at a link to a 'draft FOI request'. I suggested you submit a 'final FOI request'. If you could send a 'final' request, I will respond to it.

As a result I sent the following message.

Will you stop responding to the FOI request I withdrew and respond to the final request here.

http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/ce...

I have now made the position quite clear on two occasions please stop playing silly games and respond to the FOI request I have NOT withdrawn and stop responding to the one I have withdrawn.

The can follow the story as it unfolds because I have submitted a request for an internal review and will if necessary submit a complaint to the Information Commissioner.


http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/certified_offences_to_the_high_c




http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/certified_offences_to_the_high_c_2

which the LGO FOI officer is doing their best to ignore by sending all responses via the withdrawn request.

I also added the following note which explains how all FOI requests made via the WDTK website have unique URLs. Note the 2 on the end of the second and final request.

To further clarify the situation all FOI requests have a unique URL so it is not that difficult for an authority to identify an individual request, keep track of it and respond to it rather than other requests from the same requester.

FOOTNOTE: If you check out all LGO responses to various FOI requests on the What Do They Know website you will find that on a number of occasions they have sent an amended version of correspondence and withdrawn an earlier version, so the concept can't be unknown to them.


UPDATE

I have asked the What Do They Know website to mark the withdrawn request as withdrawn once again, which they have done. I have also, for a third time and final time tried to explain the situation to the LGO.

A third and final attempt to get you to respond to this FOI request before I submit a complaint to the Information Commissioner.

I submitted a Freedom of Information request on the 18th September 2009.

[Over the last five years how many certified offences has each LGO brought to the attention of the High Court, how many involved a council member or officer, what were the outcomes and which council did the member or officers work for.]

This was submitted via the What Do They Know website and has a unique URL and reply address. Full details can be seen by viewed at

http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/ce...

Unfortunately for some reason your office insists on responding to a different Freedom of Information request. One which I had withdrawn which has also has a unique URL and reply address.

Even when I submitted an internal review request regarding

http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/ce...

You wrongly replied to the withdrawn FOI request. Just what do I have to do to get you to respond to a valid FOI request and ignore one that was clearly withdrawn?

I have no intention of following the suggestion in your response to my withdrawn FOI request by submitting a third request.

I have submitted a valid Freedom of Information request via the What Do They Know website and I demand a response.

http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/ce...

We will just have to wait and see if they yet again send a response to the wrong FOI request and re-activate it or this time respond to the correct FOI request.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Certified offences to the High Court

The 1974 Local Government Act Part III states

Section 29

'For the purposes of an investigation under this Part of this Act a Local Commissioner may require any member or officer of the authority concerned, or any other person who in his opinion is able to furnish information or produce documents relevant to the investigation, to furnish any such information or produce any such documents.

For the purposes of any such investigation a Local Commissioner shall have the same powers as the High Court in respect of the attendance and examination of witnesses, and in respect of the production of documents.

If any person without lawful excuse obstructs a Local Commissioner in the performance of his functions under this Part of this Act, or any officer of the Commission assisting in the performance of those functions, or is guilty of any act or omission in relation to an investigation under this Part of this Act which, if that investigation were a proceeding in the High Court, would constitute contempt of court, the Local Commissioner may certify the offence to the High Court.'

In order to identify how many times each Ombudsman has used this power over the last five years I submitted the following Freedom of Information request.

'Over the last five years how many certified offences has each LGO brought to the attention of the High Court, how many involved a council member or officer, what were the outcomes and which council did the member or officers work for.'

I think the answer will be never (or at the most a couple of times) but we will have to wait and see.

Update: The answer as expected was NEVER. Read more about the Information Commisioner's decision about my complaint.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Section 32(3) notices

The council wrongly served a Section 32(3) notice on the LGO during my complaint but the LGO didn't do anything about it. Just let the council waste everyone's time with impunity. The LGO didn't even attempt to get the notice lifted and only persuaded the council to lift the notice after many months of pressure from me.

Therefore, I thought it would be interesting to find out just how many notices were served on the LGO by councils, how many times the LGO has asked the Secretary of State to lift the notice and how many times the LGO had found the council guilty of maladministration for wrongly serving a Section 32(3) on them.

My Freedom of Information request can be read here. As with my previous Freedom of Information requests to the Local Government Ombudsman if they try to avoid giving me the information I will make the same request to every single council in country. [I had to do this when they refused to tell me how many times they had informed a council that a council officer had lied to them during an investigation. Not only did I get the information the resonses clearly indicate why the LGO did not want the information to become public knowledge.]

For those that don't know what a Section 32(3) notice is the following may be of interest.

Section 32(3) of the 1974 Local Government Act is supposed to help councils stop the LGO from disclosing the content of sensitive documents, such as written advice from their legal counsel/barrister or other experts, to the complainant.

During an investigation the LGO should, but often don't, ask the council for a defence to the complainants allegations together with their evidence. On many occasions the council don't even want the complainant to even see and their defence let alone the advice given to them by their own legal counsel. On other occasions they don't want the complainant to find out they have no evidence to support their position.

Therefore, many councils wrongly serve a Section 32(3) notice on the LGO to stop them giving the complainant information which they are actually entitled to. Unfortunately this stops the LGO in their tracks because they cannot give the complainant any knowledge of the information subject to the Section 32(3) notice.

What the LGO should do, if they feel the council is wrongly using the notice to delay the investigation, is immediately ask the Secretary of State to lift the notice. However, they very rarely, if ever, do so, they normally waste the next few months and sometimes years trying to sweet talk the council into lifting the notice voluntarily.

After the council has used the delay to their advantage they eventually comply and lift the notice so the investigation into the complaint against them can continue. The LGO then quietly forgets that the council misused a Section 32(3) notice.

During the long delay between the serving of the Section 32(3) notice and the eventual lifting of the notice the council has given themselves more than enough time to go through the complaint against them in detail and construct a much better defence to the complaint than would have otherwise been the case. All whilst the LGO stands idly by watching from the sidelines.

When the investigation continues the complainant is usually faced with some 'newly identified/created evidence' to support the councils position, which the LGO accept and promptly close down the complaint without giving the complainant the time to properly respond to the 'new evidence'.

If you ever go to court you will find that they have a system that ensure the simultaneous transmission of evidence between parties. Can you imaging if one party managed to get the other party's evidence months before they had to disclose theirs? The advantage is obvious but something that our so called 'impartial' Local Government Ombudsmen let happen on a daily basis.

More on this subject when I receive a response to my Freedom of Information request.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Yet another concidence?

Further to my earlier post Coincidence?

The LGO has recently identified that a council planning officer fabricated misleading evidence. Has the council sacked the culprit and why didn't the LGO identify the officer?
'Bernard Gooch and his wife Julia were surprised to see pictures of a strange car parked on the field being used as evidence against them.
They were even more surprised when Mrs Gooch discovered the blue Vauxhall Corsa belonged to a planning official involved in the case.'
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1212483/Couple-wins-apology-council-fakes-car-photographs-planning-row-field.html#ixzz0QinzCzRB

Would the LGO have done so without my research exposing their previous failure? I doubt it!

Coincidence?

Within a few short weeks of my research being published (about the LGO's willingness to accept everything a council officer tells them together with their failure to report the fact that a council officer had lied during an investigation) the York office actually published a report about a council officer lying to them. That is something they have never done before. Coincidence or an attempt to minimise the damage done by my research? You be the judge.

Amazing what you can get Local Government Ombudsmen to do when you corner them like rats in a trap.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

The current LGOs should fall on their swords

The current LGOs have broken the law on numerous occasions over the last few years, however, the situation is made much worse when you take into account that they are responsible for Local Administrative Justice in England.

I always thought people in positions like that, who were caught breaking the law, were forced to resign. I am sure a judge would be forced to resign if they were caught breaking the law once, let alone on a regular basis.

I know that the communities and local government department of the government are aware of many of the problems with the LGO but are unwilling to take appropriate corrective action.

In addition I also know that the government petition website cannot be trusted because they have removed names from a number of anti LGO petition and kept no records as to number of names removed ot the reason for their removal.

Luckily, the Local Government Act allows the Queen to remove the LGOs for misbehaviour.

Local Government Act 1974 Part III Section 23(6)

A [Local] Commissioner may be relieved of office by Her Majesty at his own request or may be removed from office by Her Majesty on grounds of incapacity or misbehaviour.

[The word Local was later repealed by the Local Government and Housing Act 1989 (c. 42, SIF 81:1, 2), ss. 22(4), 194(4), Sch. 12 Pt. II]

Therefore, if the current commissioners have not resigned voluntarily within the next 3 months I have decided to petition the Queen in an attempt to have them removed.

However, I will not limit my petition to their law breaking, I will also include a summary of everything else that could also be classed as misbehaviour. As one example, there are many more, the time they lied to the government about their true compliance rates.

LGO broke the law in 2006

The LGO are also under a legal duty to submit a triennial review but didn't in 2006. Although they later tried to excuse this unlawful act by suggesting they were given implied consent by the DCLG, however, what they fail to understand that the DCLG cannot give them, or anyone else, express or implied consent to break the law. Why Anne Seex, York LGO, who has had some legal training, didn't know that is anyone's guess.

The LGO clearly broke the law in 2006 when they failed to produce a triennial review.

LGO have been breaking the law since April 2008

On the 1st April 2008 the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007 came into force. Part 9 of the Act concerns the Local Government Ombudsman.

Section 175
(1C) If a Local Commissioner decides—
(a) not to investigate a matter, or
(b) to discontinue an investigation of a matter,
he shall prepare a statement of his reasons for the decision and send a copy to each of the persons concerned.
The Ombudsman's power to issue a statement of reasons on a complaint was brought in by the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007, which came into force on 1 April 2008. However, the Ombudsmen decided not to exercise that power from that date, and this new provision has yet to be implemented. So no statements of reasons have yet been produced; the information you request is not held.

However, the Act gives the Local Government Ombudsman no discretion over whether to issue a statement of their reason under the following conditions, If they decide

(a) not to investigate a matter, or
(b) to discontinue an investigation of a matter,
The Act clearly places a mandatory obligation on Local Government Ombudsmen to produce a statement of their reasons,

he
shall prepare a statement of his reasons for the decision and send a copy to each of the persons concerned.

In their response to the Freedom of Information request the Local Government Ombudsman openly admit they have not produced any statements of reasons since the Act became law which means the Local Government Ombudsman has been breaking the law since the 1st April 2008.


I wonder how many other laws has the Local Government Ombudsman decided to ignore since 1974?

Friday, September 04, 2009

LGO guilty of promoting double standards

In an earlier post I reproduced the unredacted email that Nigel Karney (LGO) sent to Stephen McAllister (DCLG) about the LGO's compliance rates. I had earlier obtained a redacted copy but was interested in why the had sent me a redacted copy of the email. Just what didn't they want me to see? The bit they didn't want me to see is reproduced below.

'We feel very strongly that your petition response should be specific to complaints under our current jurisdiction covering local government and similar public bodies. Your current wording reads as a statement that would cover all circumstances.

As you are aware, the Ombudsmen are in discussion with the government about the possibility of binding recommendations being appropriate for `self funders'. This is on the basis that this sector does not have a mature relationship with an ombudsman type organisation. Furthermore, the private sector may be less likely to be persuaded by the sanction of a published response to a further report and, in many cases, publicity will not be in the best interests of the complainant.
' [My emphasis]

It is clear that the LGO want their recommendations binding for others but not their friends in local authorities. Why, when an ever growing number of local authorities are refusing to follow their recommendations, don't they want to make them binding on local authorities?

Mr Karney states that the reason is due to their mature relationship with local authorities. What utter rubbish. But what can you expect from a man that, as a reason for refusing to supply information under the Freedom of Information Act about the number of ex central government staff they employed, stated that the request was vexatious because it was no different than asking how many of their staff had brown hair. As everyone knows the LGO argue they are independent of central government, however, I have never heard them argue they are independent of people with brown hair.

They don't appear to understand that this fallacious twaddle they insist on using to excuse their actions just makes them look like idiots. In addition how does he know publicity will not be in the best interests of the complainant. Has he ever asked anyone?

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Exposing the truth forces the LGO to change

A council officer provided incorrect and seriously misleading information to the Ombudsman regarding my case yet Mrs Seex failed to bring this to the attention of the council during her investigation or in her 2008 report.

Since my earlier posts about Local Government Ombudsmen always believing the council/ignoring council officer lies and my research into the subject, it looks as if Local Government Ombudsmen have now decided to change their ways. Just a pity they are only doing so to cover their backsides now my research has exposed their failures of the past The following statement was recently published in a Telegraph article.

'The Ombudsman found that the Council

'..........
had provided “incorrect and seriously misleading information” to her during her inquiry.'

Read the full Telegraph article here.

I wonder if the officer concerned has been disciplined by the council? I doubt it. Although the LGO now appear to be bringing council officer lies to the attention of the council they don't appear to be doing anything else about the issue.

In any event what about all the people who have suffered over the last 25 years because of the LGO's stupid and biased policy of accepting everything a council officers says without validation and then ignoring the problem when evidence later proves they have lied?

At least what Mrs Seex was forced to do with Lewisham proves one of my earlier quotes about Local Government Ombudsmen. They work well when cornered like a rat in a trap