Friday, January 29, 2010

LGO: Forgot to use a proxy?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

I challange the LGO, BIOA and the AJTC

In the British and Irish Ombudsman's Association publication 'the ombudsman' issue 39 Walter Merricks, former Ombudsman at the Financial Ombudsman Service states, in an article called Reflections,

"A challenge for BIOA and for the AJTC would be to commission some critical evidence based analysis that would either support our right to a permanent place in the administrative justice system – or show if and where the claims we make have less substance than we may like to think."

Accordingly, I challenge the LGO, BIOA and AJTC to commission some critical evidence based analysis that would either support the LGO's right to a permanent place in the administrative justice system - or show where the claims of the LGO have less substance that they assert. Proving once and for all that they have no right to a permanent place in the administrative justice system.

Please note: By critical I don't mean another manipulated MORI type survey in which a significant number of complainants were excluded. My Freedom of Information request to find out what the AJTC have already done.

For information: The Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) is a founder member of the British and Irish Ombudsman's Association (BIOA) whilst Pat Thomas, ex LGO, is currently shown as a member of the Administrative Justice and Tribunal Council (AJTC). The AJTC even have an ex council CEO as a member.

Professors think LGO should not investigate individual complaints.

"If ombudsmen are to have a greater impact on ‘getting decision-making right first time.' their focus should shift from the resolution of all individual complaints to a more strategic focus concentrating on the small number of complaints that are of significance to parties beyond those in dispute and that appear to involve systemic failures. Resources freed up as a result should be used to bolster policy,analytic and communication functions. Ombudsmen should move from predominantly facing the public, to predominantly facing administrators."

Brian Thompson, Richard Kirkham and Trevor Buck. (The Ombudsman issue 38, partially repeated in an article in issue 39 by Chriss Gill)

I would argue that If ombudsmen were meant to have a greater impact on ‘getting decision-making right first time' they should have been given some teeth so they could force councils to face the consequences of their maladministration. The LGO don't want any teeth because they don't want councils to face the consequences of maladministration and from this article neither do the Professors.

I would be happy if the LGO and councils could get it right at all let alone the first time.

Friday, January 22, 2010

LGO wrongly applying FOI exemptions to block valid requests

When you submit a Freedom of Information to the Local Government Ombudsman they often (wrongly) use two exemptions in an attempt to block your request.

The first one is that the cost of extracting the information would exceed the maximum permitted under the FOI Act. They imply that they would need to search hard copy files to extract the information, ignoring totally that they have a number of computerised systems which makes searching for information very easy. However, they very rarely use this exemption in isolation, they tend to use it in support of another exemption, a kind of belt and braces approach, hoping that if you are not put off with one exemption you may be put off when faced with two.

The second exemption is that the information you seek is exempt from disclosure under Section 44 of the Freedom of Information Act , which states that the Act does not override any restriction on the release of information covered by an earlier law. They usually state the following in an attempt to further frighten you off

"Such a restriction applies to the Ombudsman's complaint files. Under the Local Government Act 1974 (section 32(2)), the Ombudsman is not permitted to disclose any information obtained in the course of, or for the purposes of, the investigation of a complaint, unless he or she considers it is necessary for the purposes of the investigation (or for other very limited reasons mostly related to legal proceedings). Disclosing the information you ask for is not necessary for the purposes of any investigation by the Ombudsman, so I am therefore unable to provide you with it."

However, on many occasions the information you seek was not obtained in the course of, or for the purposes of an investigation. To illustrate my point I refer to two examples

The first one is a request I made to identify how many offences the Local Government Ombudsmen had certified to the high court. Essentially they have the statutory authority to certify an offence should a council officer not cooperate with their investigation. They initially refused to supply the information requested citing the two exemptions above.

Unlike many people who give up at this stage I decided to request an internal review. Due to their delay in carrying out the internal review in a timely fashion I submitted a complaint to the Information Commisioner (ICO)
[Case Reference Number FS50285678]. Within days of the ICO becoming involved I received this response from the LGO. Although they gave me the information requested unfortunately they didn't have the good grace to admit they were wrong (something they very rarely do). They just tried to place the blame on me by implying that my request was not clear enough.

'Having examined your 18 September 2009 request it is not clear that this was the information you were requesting. I consider that Ms Pook provided you with the correct response based on her understanding of your request.'

Which is quite clearly a load of bullshit. The request I made was clear and concise and no clarification was necessary.

"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."

Their attempt to suggest otherwise does them no credit and was used in an attempt to obfuscate their wrongful use of section 44 exemption in denying me the information.

The second example has nothing to do with me and is a Freedom of Information request I recently noticed on the What Do They Know website.

"Please may I ask you to state the total number of complaints/messages you have received to date about or including Camden council officers/managers telling lies or making/giving false allegations."

What struck me is that the LGO's response was very similar to the one I had received. Citing costs and section 44 as a reason for not providing the information. How an earth can information generated before they became involved or even decided to investigate a complaint come under the following section 44 exemption. It's a down right ludicrous proposition.

"Such a restriction applies to the Ombudsman's complaint files. Under the Local Government Act 1974 (section 32(2)), the Ombudsman is not permitted to disclose any information obtained in the course of, or for the purposes of, the investigation of a complaint, unless he or she considers it is necessary for the purposes of the investigation (or for other very limited reasons mostly related to legal proceedings). Disclosing the information you ask for is not necessary for the purposes of any investigation by the Ombudsman, so I am therefore unable to provide you with it."

It is clear that the FOI officer also realises the application of the exemption is wrong when they say to the requester

"If someone made an allegation that a council officer had told lies, we would try to obtain information that either confirmed or refuted that allegation. By definition, that would be 'information obtained in the course of, or for the purposes of, the investigation of a complaint.' So section 44 of the Act applies."

However, the requester is NOT asking for information after the allegations had been confirmed or refuted they merely asked for information regarding the number of allegations. As such section 32(2) does not apply and therefore section 44 of the FOI Act cannot apply. Follow this as it unfolds here

If you feel the LGO has wrongly applied Section 44 of the FOI Act using Section 32(2) of the Local Government Act please do something about it and complain to the ICO. You can do it here. To read a previous decision notice by the ICO which explains just what information the ICO considers is and isn't exempt under Section 44 FOI Act because of Section 32(3) LG Act please download and read this decision notice. (PDF file) Section 21 refers if you don't feel like reading it all.

Footnote: If the LGO have so much difficulty understanding clear and concise FOI requests, clearly don't know how to interpret statutes correctly and won't admit when they are wrong, what hope does a complainant have in getting them to understand more complex issues and do the right thing when they make a mess of their complaint?

Sunday, January 17, 2010

More evidence against the LGO

Further to my earlier posts regarding Certified Offences to the High Court.

After a long and unwarranted delay by the LGO, including a devious attempt to derail my FOI request, I finally secured a proper response to my FOI request with the help of the ICO. [Case Reference Number FS50285678]

"I can advise you that over the past five years there has been no occasion when it has been necessary for an LGO to obtain a direction from the High Court for a council or council officer to provide information requested by the LGO in connection with an investigation."

Add this to the other information that I previously secured using the FOI Act and a more accurate picture of the 'so called impartial' LGO emerges. Over the last five years some 80,000 complaints will have been submitted to them yet they have never

1) formally reported a council officer for lying.
2) found a council guilty of maladministration because one of their officers has misused section 32(3) of the 1974 Local Government Act to stop a complainant having access to evidence.
3) asked the secretary of state to lift a section 32(3) notice that was wrongly used.
4) certified a council officer as guilty of an offence to the High Court.

80,000 complaints over five years, many of them including allegations of a council officer lying, manipulating evidence and misusing section 32(3) notices, yet not one has led the 'impartial LGO' to do any of the above!

Monday, January 11, 2010

New Ombudsman, reports of maladministration reduced to an all time low??

Dr. Jane Martin starts work today. Will she be an improvement on previous Ombudsmen? Who knows, only time will tell.

However, evidence suggests that every new Ombudsman has investigated fewer complaints and reported less maladministration than the Ombudsman they have replaced or any of their fellow Ombudsmen at the time. For example Jerry White started in 1995 and in 2008 investigated fully and reported maladministration in only 2.2% of complaints submitted. Tony Redmond started in 2001 and in 2008 fully investigates and reported maladministration in only 0.7% of complaints submitted. Anne Seex started in 2005 and in 2008 investigated fully investigated and reported maladministration in only 0.1% of complaints submitted.
Do the maths. Every new Ombudsman since 1995 has significantly reduced the number of complaints they fully investigate and report as maladministration. Tony Redmond only 32% of Jerry White's reports. Anne Seex 14% of Tony Redmond's reports and an impossible to believe 0.045% of Jerry White's reports.
Are we are entering an era where no council maladministration is fully investigated and reported? Only time will tell but it's not looking good for complainants.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Certified Offences to the High Court (Update 1)

Further to my earlier post on the subject and the LGO's initial attempt at delay because of further unjustified delays I decided to submit a complaint to the Information Commissioner on the 18th December. As of today it has been 53 working days since I asked for an internal review of their refusal to give me the information.

[Internal reviews should be quick. If one takes longer than 20 working days then the authority should write and let you know, and it should never take longer than 40 working days (see this good practice guide).]

In this case the LGO didn't even acknowledge my request for an internal review until the 1st December 2009 and that was only after I sent a reminder. This was already 32 working days after I submitted my request for an internal review. Since then another 21 working days have passed and still no response.

Why? The same reason they didn't want to respond to my FOI requests about Section 32 notices and about council officers lying. The answer will embarrass them and prove (again) they are not the impartial organisation they state they are on their website.

As far as I am concerned if they have never formally reported an individual council officer for lying or fabricating evidence they are hardly likely to have certified that a council officer would not cooperate with them as an offence to the High Court .