Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Identifying the bad public authorities

One of the spin of benefits of submitting Freedom of Information requests to a large number of public authorities is that you can start to identify the good councils, those that supply the information you requested and the poor councils, those who spend more time and effort trying to stop you getting hold of public information than it would take just to give it you in the first place.

It's also quite amusing to read some of the reasons for refusal. Cost grounds is a popular excuse but another more recent excuse emerging is copyright. What councils fail to understand is that the fact information is subject to copyright and restrictions on re-use does not exempt it from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act. Their position is all the more absurd when you realise that every person in the world could ask for exactly the same information which they are refusing to give to one person (me) just in case it gets published for everyone to read.

Thereby creating the bizarre situation where they may have to deal with thousands of FOI requests for the same information rather than just one. Only a tax payer funded institution would accept the logic of that.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

More LGO incompetence hits the Internet

Another citizen who is dissatisfied with Local Government Ombudsman has decided to blog about their experience.

http://woodsofworcester.blogspot.com/

The evidence just keeps on mounting.

Friday, October 16, 2009

LGO: The Ombudsman Enterprise and Administrative Justice

During the select committee investigation into the Role and Investigation of the Local Government Ombudsmen during 2005 one of their friendly professors (also British and Irish Ombudsman Association colleague) Richard Kirkham produced a very pro LGO paper supposedly from a complainants point of view. Although after reading the paper I doubted he had ever met a complainant before writing it.

However, in a more recent paper 'The Ombudsman Enterprise and Administrative Justice: an academic viewpoint' he and a couple of colleagues now suggests two things that we have been fighting for since 2003. The article is printed in issue 38 the BIOA news (page 10) which can be downloaded here

1) A Government led review of the ombudsman community is undertaken as soon as practically possible.

2) Revise the accountability arrangements of the local government ombudsmen.

If the Government won't listen to us will they listen to pro ombudsmen and BIOA colleagues like Richard Kirkham?

Recruitment of a replacement Local Government Ombudsman (update 3)

Further to my earlier posts the Recruitment of a replacement Local Government Ombudsman and Recruitment of a replacement Local Government Ombudsman (Update 2) the select committee has now interviewed the Government's preferred new Local Government Ombudsman Dr Jane Martin. You can read a transcript of the interview here. Although the interview was supposed to be a pre-appointment hearing it is obvious from Dr Martin's responses that she already considers the current LGOs as her colleagues. Although she is not an ex Council CEO, which is a good thing, she is still ex Council and, like all the other LGOs, has never had a proper job. In fact she has an academic background without any real world experience which is frightening for a prospective LGO.

The email I sent to the Select Committee has been opened, up to now, on 46 occasions for a total of 1 hour 20 minutes so someone is interested in what I have to say. What concerned me most was her obvious lack of knowledge about such things as local settlements, however, even the panel don't even understand them so her ignorance on the subject was not picked up. We will have to wait and see if she is an improvement on Jerry White or not. Unlike Jerry White though she is at least giving up her part time job rather than trying to do two jobs at once as Jerry did. Even the committee stated that the Local Government Ombudsman's job was a full time role so how an earth Jerry got away with two jobs for so long is a mystery to me.

In anticipation of Dr Jane Martin getting the job I have started a web-page dedicated to her. I have already incorporated her promise to give up her part time work and her political activity. If you have any information about Dr Jane Martin please send it to me so I can add it to her page.

Friday, October 09, 2009

LGO FOI Officer admits supplying false information

Further to an earlier post about the LGO breaking the law, in a new response the LGO FOI officer admit they provided false information when they responding to an earlier Freedom of Information request.

The provisions of the LGPIH in relation to Statements of Reasons are not being ignored by the Local Government Ombudsmen. It seems my letter of 17 August in response to your request (our ref: CS/09/070) “Statement of Reasons” was incorrect when it said: “The Ombudsmen decided not to exercise that power from that date, and this new provision has yet to be implemented.”

So why does the FOI officer now suggest they had earlier supplied false information (A lie by any other name). Probably because the FOI officer stating they supplied false information gets the LGO out of the more serious charge of breaking the law.

The LGO never learn

Further to my earlier post regarding a Freedom of Information request I submitted to the Local Government Ombudsman in order to identify how many Section 32(3) 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.

[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.]

I have now received a similar response to the one I received when I asked them about the number of council officers they had reported for lying to them. Essentially they don't want to give me the information and I can well understand why. It will be another damning indictment of the LGO.

However, just like last time, they may be able to delay my research but they can't stop the truth from eventually coming out. As they couldn't when I published my research into the number of times they had reported a council officer for lying.

I have already started to submit a request to every council in England in order to extract some of the information and another to the government will extract the rest.

As it did with my earlier research it will take quite some time to submit all the FOI requests and elicit the information but it will eventually be published and I have no doubt it will support my theory that the LGO very rarely, if ever, seek to have a Section 32(3) notice lifted or find a council guilty for misusing a Section 32(3) notice.

One of the unexpected spin off benefits of the LGO's refusal to give me the information, forcing me to ask every council in England is that I can link back from every FOI request to my research as I did with my earlier research. This directed well over 1500 people from the What Do They Know website to read the outcome of my research.

Luckily for me the LGO, like most public servants, never learn their lesson and keep shooting themselves in the foot. Look at the additional damage the MPs did when they tried to stop the truth about their expenses being published. All they did was to make themselves look even worse for trying to stop people seeing the information.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

New Ombudsman named

Further to my earlier email to the Office of the Deputy Prime minister select committee.

Dr Jane Martin has been named as the preferred candidate for appointment as the next Local Government Ombudsman following a public competition.

Just a pity there wasn't a public consultation regarding the suitability of ex council officers holding the post of Local Government Ombudsman .

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Email to the ODPM select committee.

Reference: Pre-appointment hearing with the Government's preferred candidate for Local Government Ombudsman and Deputy Chair of the Commission for Local Administration in England.

Why has the name of the preferred candidate not been published in advance of the hearing so member of the public could, if necessary, raise objections about the preferred candidate?

Yours sincerely

Trevor Nunn

Monday, October 05, 2009

LGO caught out lying again!

On the 11th September I submitted the following Freedom of Information request.

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?

The response from the LGO to my FOI request is as follows.

The answers to the questions you pose in your email of 11 September, are:

1.The Commission does not do this [my emphasis], so there is no date.
2.Never (see above).
3.Never (see above).

Oh no? Mrs Seex clearly uses costs as reason for not investigating complaints about council officer conduct. See an extract from a letter I have been given below. No wonder the LGO very rarely identify council officer wrongdoing, they don't even look. Clearly using costs as a reason for not doing so!

Contents of a recent letter sent by Mr Hobbs, Assistant Ombudsman, York LGO office to a complainant.

'Of course the Ombudsman [Mrs Seex] does not condone any council or its officers flouting policies or the law but what she does do is consider whether it is in the public interest and whether it is a good use of scarce public resources to pursue complaints about council officer conduct as opposed to complaints about more substantive maladministration causing injustice.' [My annotation] [My Bolding]

So what is the truth?

Friday, October 02, 2009

How many people complain to the DCLG about the LGO

On the 28th August 2009 I submitted the following Freedom of Information request via the What Do They Know website

'I would like to know how many complaints (letters of dissatisfaction) have been submitted to your department about the Local Government Ombudsman over the last five years.'

I received the following response on the 23rd September 2009

'Thank you for your request, received on 28th August, for information about the number of complaints the Department has received about the Local Government Ombudsman over the last five years. Your request has been considered under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.
Unfortunately it will not be possible to provide you with the information you have asked for. This is because I estimate the cost of searching for, extracting and supplying you with all the information relevant to your request would be in the region of £1,000. We are not obliged to provide information if the cost exceeds £600'

Their response implies that they don't keep records of complaints about the Local Government Ombudsman and the only way they could provide a response to my FOI request was to search all correspondence over the last five years.

Before I requested an internal review I decided to submit the following message to clarify my understanding of the situation.

'Just to confirm the situation, are you implying that you don't record complaints against the LGO and that the only way you can identify the number of complaints submitted to your office over the last five years is to look at every letters received by your office over that period?

If that is the case I would like to know how you keep ministers aware of the number of complaints against the LGO.'
On the 30th September I received an acknowledgement

'Trevor - Thank you for your email below. A response is being prepared and we will send a reply to you shortly.'

I await their final response but will if necessary submit a complaint to the Information Commissioner because it is absolutely ridiculous to suggest that they don't keep a record of a citizen's dissatisfaction with an organisation that they sponsor and only use the LGO annual reports, statistics and surveys as the basis for deciding whether or not the LGO, as a tax payer funded quango, are providing an adequate system of administrative justice.

Fact: It cost the taxpayer over 6 times more to fund the LGO than they recommend as settlements for public authority wrongdoing.