Saturday, July 24, 2010

Torbay: A Local? Settlement is just maldministration by another name!

The most recent annual reviews (previous called annual letters) sent to all councils about their performance in dealing with complaints made about them to the Local Government Ombudsman have recently been published.

When some councils publicise their annual review they place great emphasis on the fact that the Local Government Ombudsman has not found any maladministration. However, this totally ignores the fact that they and the Local Government Ombudsman settled numerous cases of maladministration.

What councils don't appear to understand is that a local settlement means only one thing, they have paid compensation for an act of maladministration.

The fact that Councils and the Local Government Ombudsman have a duplicitous arrangement to avoid Council wrongdoings being recorded as maladministration does not detract from the fact that if they had not been guilty of any wrongdoing they would not have had to pay compensation to settle cases.

When are the Local Government Ombudsmen and Councils going to stop manipulating the true levels of council maladministration?

Here is an example of serious maladministration that was NOT recorded as maladministration by the Local Government Ombudsman. Jerry White Local Government Ombudsman, Coventry office,  should be ashamed of himself for not recording this as a serious act of maladministration leading to injustice.

[Jerry White the then Ombudsman has now retired and has been replaced with Dr Jane Martin]

"A council apologised today and admitted paying £12,000 in compensation to two girls who were sexually abused by two children in care. Torbay Council in Devon paid £6,000 to each abused girl after their parents complained and agreed to review its risk management policies and procedures.

The case emerged in the Local Government Ombudsman's annual report for the financial year 2009/10. It revealed the council failed to adequately assess the risk posed by placing the children next door to the girls.

It also failed to offer appropriate support to the complainants and their daughters following the abuse. Torbay Council chief executive Elizabeth Raikes said: "We completely accept the Ombudsman's decision to award these four local settlements and apologise for any distress caused to the complainants."

Why are such serious acts of maladministration leading to injustice not recorded or reported as such by the Local Government Ombudsman? Notice the complete absence of the word maladministration in the article and the LGO's failure to record it a such in their annual review of Torbay Council.

In 2009/10 the Local Government Ombudsman took decisions on 26 complaints against Torbay Council. In 11 cases they found no or insufficient evidence of maladministration. 7 complaints were outside their jurisdiction (How an earth a Local Government Ombudsman can take a decision on a complaint that is outside their jurisdiction to take a decision on is beyond me.) and in 4 cases Torbay Council agreed to settle the complaint. The LGO exercised discretion not to investigate a further 4 cases. Typically these are cases where, even though there may have been some fault by the council, there is no significant injustice to the complainant.

26 complaints, £18,800 compensation paid by Torbay Council for the injustice they caused through their maladministration to 4 complainants yet not 1 case of maladministration leading to injustice recorded or reported as such by the Local Government Ombudsman.

The Local Government Ombudsman who tried to bury this serious act of maladministration as a local settlement may consider it settled but the complainants certainly don't.

And the LGO wonder why complainants think they are duplicitous!

Why not download your councils annual review and see how economical with the truth the Local Government Ombudsman has been when recording and reporting their true levels of maladministration. 

Footnote:  The Local Government Ombudsmen invented local settlements years ago as a way of avoiding having to find a public authority guilty of maladministration for a number of reasons. (a) It saved them the time and effort of having to conduct a proper investigation and produce a formal report. (b) It gave them a carrot with which to dangle before the public authority, 'settle the case locally before we complete the investigation and you can bury a finding of maladministration' on the cheap. Local Government Ombudsmen prefer not to issue a maladministration report and recommend compensation because councils can ignore their recommendations with impunity. (c) It allowed the public authority concerned to boast that the Local Government Ombudsman had not upheld a complaint of maladministration against them. The only loser is the complainant who has the settlement forced upon them.

It is important to realise that Local Settlements are agreed between one of the three Local Government Ombudsman's offices in the country and the public authority concerned. The complainant has NO say in the matter. The word local was deviously introduced by the LGO to give the impression that settlements are made locally between the Council and the Complainant when they are not.  There is nothing local about a local settlement.

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