Thursday, April 01, 2010

Lancaster City Council, the LGO and Anne Seex

On 13 February 2007 the Commission for Local Administration England ('CLAE') (responsible for allocating Local Government Ombudsmen to Council's) made a decision that Jerry White should cease to be the Local Government Ombudsman for Lancaster. It was further decided that Anne Seex should assume this role.

Unfortunately for them the 10 year rule [1 below] would have blocked Anne Seex from determining complaints against Lancaster in 2007 and that is why they had to wait until 2010 to implement their plans to allow Anne Seex to determine complaints against Lancaster City Council.

However, irrespective of the 10 year rule I thought Anne Seex would be in a very difficult position should a member of the public's complaint involve any of her ex friends or colleagues. If there are more than 25% of staff and members still working at Lancaster the odds are that she will be called to determine a complaint involving an ex colleague and this can't be right under any circumstance. In addition Pat Thomas, the Ombudsman she took over from and trained her, also lives and works in the Lancaster area.

Therefore, on March 2nd 2010 I submitted the following Freedom of Information Request in order to identify the exact number of staff and members still working at Lancaster City Council since Anne Seex left.

On the 1st April 2010 Anne Seex the Local Government Ombudsman based in York will take over responsibility for determining complaints against Lancaster City Council. Anne Seex used to work for Lancaster City Council, therefore, I would like to know what percentage of staff and members who were at Lancaster City Council whilst Mrs Seex was employed are still at the council.

On April 1st 2010 I received the following response from Lancaster City Council

With relation to the staff and members who were with the Council at the time of Anne Seex employment and are still with the Council, I can advise you that,
The percentage of staff still employed is 37%.
The percentage of elected members is 43%
So I have an open question for the Commission for Local Administration in England (otherwise known as the Local Government Ombudsman), Lancaster City Council and the residents & taxpayers of Lancaster and the surrounding district, those very people who may have their future complaints against Lancaster City Council, bizarrely including Pat Thomas, the Local Government Ombudsman Anne Seex took over from.

Can it be right, under any circumstances, that Anne Seex, as a Local Government Ombudsman, is given the power to determine complaints against the authority she used to work for, particularly since some 37% of staff and 43% of members still work in the authority concerned. In addition, Pat Thomas, the Local Government Ombudsman she took over from in 2005 lives and works in the Lancaster area.

[1] The origins of the 10 year rule

The position is that LGA 1974 Schedule 4 Section 23 (1)(2) states:

2)     A Local Commissioner shall not at any time conduct a case arising in an area if it is wholly or partly within an area for which one of those authorities is responsible and, within the five years ending at that time (“the disqualification period”), the Local Commissioner

(a)    has been a member of that authority,

(b)    has taken action on behalf of that authority in the exercise of any of their functions, or

(c)    has taken action which, by virtue of an enactment, is treated as having been taken by that authority in the exercise of any of their functions.

However the Register of Interests attached to the Code of Conduct asks LCs to declare any bodies of which they’ve been a paid employee within the previous 10 years.

So whilst you are not precluded from making the transfer within 5 years of employment it may be appropriate to delay for 10 years if this is feasible.”

Anne Seex then confirmed in an email to Nigel Karney that she left the employment of Lancaster City Council in April 2000, so the Commission was able to agree the transfer of Lancaster to Anne Seex’ office from April 2010 at its December meeting, as it will then have been 10 years since she was employed there. The authority for this decision is the Commission’s, at the December meeting.

Until April 2010, Lancaster City Council is in the area covered by the Ombudsman based in Coventry, as it has been for a number of years.

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