Monday, June 28, 2010

LGO spin: What lies beneath

On the about us page of the Local Government Ombudsman's website they give a few key 'facts' about the Ombudsmen. However, you need to take everything they say with a pinch of salt. Below is their list of 'facts' in black together with further information in blue. Information they would prefer remained unpublished.

About us: Key facts about the Ombudsmen

  • There are three Local Government Ombudsmen in England.
There are three ex council officers acting as  'faux' Local Government Ombudsmen in England. See my earlier posts.
  • We make our decisions independently of all government departments, councils and politicians.
All three Local Government Ombudsmen and the majority of their staff are ex council. The majority of the rest are ex government departments.  In addition there is evidence that they are told what their decisions should be. Here is an  example. There is also further evidence which proves that Local Government Ombudsmen will also change their decision over a recommended remedy should the council decide differently. Here is an example.
  • We examine complaints without taking sides. We are not consumer champions.
A 'citizen's champion' was the original definition of an Ombudsman and was the reason why they were introduced in the first place. They used to level the playing field between an individual citizen and a large public authority. By remaining neutral the Local Government Ombudsmen are ignoring the inherent bias against the individual which the original Ombudsman was introduced to overcome. 

["If, like Local Government Ombudsmen, you remain impartial in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are impartial, the mouse will not appreciate your impartiality."]
  • We are appointed by Her Majesty the Queen. 
True but only done to give the impression of independence from Local and National Government. In reality a Government Department, also responsible for Local Government, select the Ombudsman and tell the Queen to rubber stamp the appointment. Why do you think every new Local Government Ombudsman recruited since 1995 is ex council. The last thing the Government Department responsible for Local Government want is an effective Ombudsman.
  • We have the same powers as the High Court to obtain information and documents.
This is true but a power they rarely if ever use to obtain evidence a council don't want to give them.
  • Our decisions are final and cannot be appealed. However, you can challenge them in the High Court if you think our reasoning has a legal flaw.
True but that doesn't worry a council because they can ignore anything the Local Government Ombudsman recommends. Although you can challenge them in the high court by way of a judicial review this is restricted to legal flaws. If, as often happens, the Local Government Ombudsman wants to stuff you they just manipulate the facts rather than the law. You could appeal a finding of fact but as the Local Government Ombudsmen rightly state you cannot appeal one of their decisions. Neat or what!
  • We do not have to investigate every complaint received, even if we have the power to do so. For example, we may decide not to investigate if we think the problem you mention would have affected you only slightly. 
True and one of the most devious ways a Local Government Ombudsman has for burying a complaint for a council. They have the statutory discretion over their decision whether to investigate a complaint or not. Making it very difficult if not impossible to overturn by way of a judicial review. 
  • We are committed to providing a fair service and spending public money effectively.
This is just nonsense. Last year it cost them some £1,353 of tax payers money to determine every single complaint (within their remit to determine). Whilst the average compensation recommended for the small number of those complainants lucky enough to obtain a positive outcome was £750. In addition as I have previously stated councils often refuse to provide the recommended remedy so the figure of £750 will in reality be much less. How is that fair and an effective use of public money? Furthermore, I note from reading Freedom of Information request submitted to the Local Government Ombudsman that there are questions being asked about tax payer funded trips to Australia and Canada at public expense. Finally is it fair is councils can change Ombudsmen if they don't like the outcome but complainants can't or that councils can ignore the Ombudsman with impunity?
  • We do not charge for using our service.
True but there is a reason, nobody would use them. Especially when you realise that you only have about a 20% chance of getting an average of about £750 compensation but the cost would be £1,353 whether you are one of the lucky ones or not. Not exactly good odds or value for money by any stretch of the imagination. Most solicitors can obtain an average of about £5,000 compensation, some 7 times more than the LGO.  In this world you get what you pay for, Local Government Ombudsmen are free for one reason and one reason only, they are what could colloquially best be described as crap.
  • When we find that a council has done something wrong, we may recommend how it should put it right. Although we cannot make councils do what we recommend, they are almost always willing to act on what we say.
True that a council can ignore them with impunity but not true that councils are almost willing to act on what they say. A significant number of councils have ignored Local Government Ombudsmen over the years and the situation is getting worse.  So bad they recently resorted to manipulating their compliances statistics.

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