Wednesday, July 18, 2012

My response to the LGO's response to the panning they received

The LGO published an initial response to the panning they received from MPs on the 17th July 2012. I have reproduced their response below together with my comments/additions in blue. 
LGO responds to Select Committee report 
Date Published: 17/07/12
The LGO welcomes today’s (17 July) report from the Communities and Local Government Committee, which pays tribute to the work of our staff during a particularly demanding period and welcomes plans to publish our decisions in the interests of openness.
That makes a change -  they have always been reluctant to give full details of their decision because it would allow complainants to contest the validity of their decisions. Many of which would not stand up to close scrutiny.
We also agree that some changes need to be made to the organisation, in order to ensure that we continue to modernise and provide a high quality service, whilst our budget is reduced by a third over the next few years.
Continue to provide a high quality service? The Local Government Ombudsman has not provided a high quality service since the mid nineties when they started to recruit ex council officers as ombudsmen. In addition until recently their budget had been increased significantly even though the service was going downhill. Therefore, they should have expected their budget to be cut in line with the poor service they now provide.
This is why we have been consulting on a comprehensive programme of change over the last 12 months, which can be fully implemented once the government provide the necessary authorisations.
Change that has been forced upon them because the service they provided was getting worse and worse and they demonstrably failed to do anything about it.  Other than manipulate their statistics and surveys in an attempt to give the false impression they were still doing a good job.
Our proposals have been discussed extensively with staff, government officials and others, and are available on the LGO website, along with the independent review which informed them.
But not with many complainants, their main customers
Jane Martin, Ombudsman and Chair, comments: “Our annual report published last week shows that LGO made 11,229 complaint decisions in 2011/12, an increase on previous years and a trend that we expect to continue.
Reports produced by themselves using their own dodgy statistics. [example 1] [example 2]
In more than a quarter of these cases, we identified significant injustice and obtained redress for the complainants concerned, many of whom were vulnerable individuals whose voices would have otherwise gone unheard.
The redress mentioned is on average a few hundred pounds so they can close down a complaint early which saves them having to conduct a full and proper investigation and issue formal reports finding maladministration against their ex colleagues.
We are acutely aware that this is an essential frontline service and welcome the scrutiny of the Committee to make sure that we are delivering it as efficiently as possible without compromising on quality.
They can't compromise on something they haven't had for years, which is a  quality service. 
We will be responding in detail to the Committee’s report over the coming weeks and hope it will be evident, when we have had the opportunity publish our response, that many of the recommendations have already been taken on board.”
LGO publishes its performance against time standards for handling complaints and these compare well with other Ombudsman schemes: last year we decided more than 55% of cases within 13 weeks; and 85% within 26 weeks.
Statistics which they produce themselves and are not independently audited. 
However, in rare situations, the complaint cannot be resolved within 52 weeks – usually due to the complexity of the issues involved or the need to accommodate other organisations’ processes.
Rubbish, in my own case the issues were very simple but it still took them 11 years (Mainly because they didn't appear to have the ability to think logically and rationally. Here is an example. ) and they still made a hash of the final decision because they based it on lies they accepted from the council without validation (Not an uncommon thing for the LGO to do).

In addition, if a case is dragging on they try their best to close it down and get the complainant to submit another. This is one way they improve their case duration statistics. With the added bonus of being able to count, what is essentially the same complaint, twice and on some occasions three or more times. They used at least five different complaint numbers during the period they were attempting to resolve my complaint. 

Therefore, do they handle as many cases as they suggest or do they churn a smaller number of cases to make themselves look much more effective than they actually are?
This is currently only around 0.5% of our cases and we are actively reviewing every individual case which falls into this category in order to check that we have done everything possible to achieve a satisfactory outcome. We will continue to publish our performance against time targets.
LGO has long been committed to using an independent research body to assess customer satisfaction, as an important part of our public accountability. 
Whilst they may use an independent research body to give an air of legitimacy to their customer satisfaction surveys they actually tell the body not to approach certain complainants which has on one occasion been close to 20% of their most dissatisfied complainants. Thus manipulating the outcome in their favour.
This provides us with independent feedback on how our customers experience our service, their views on different aspects of what we do and overall satisfaction.
They have known about their poor levels of customer satisfaction since the 90s and done nothing to improve them. One could, in light of the recent panning from MPs, legitimately argue they are now much worse. 
We certainly agree with the Committee that this should continue, and we will reflect on how this work, along with the evaluation of our own service and capturing the views of our staff, can best be developed in future.
They could make a start by surveying  representative groups and not omitting the most dissatisfied ones in an attempt to give the false impression they are better than they are.  

Monday, July 16, 2012

Select Committee Report Published

Please note: Whilst this blog post was prepared just before midnight on Monday 16th July it was only published at 00.05am on Tuesday 17 July 2012 in line with Communities and Local Government Committee embargo instructions.

MPs call on the Local Government Ombudsman to raise its game significantly 

To deliver its role as independent arbitrator in disputes about unfair treatment or service failure by local authorities, the Local Government Ombudsman must tackle operational inefficiencies rapidly and conduct its own activities with credible effectiveness, say MPs on the Communities and Local Government Committee.

Launching a report of a recent inquiry that looked closely at the role and efficacy of the Local Government Ombudsman, CLG Committee chair Clive Betts said,

“First and foremost, the LGO must implement the changes identified by the recent Strategic Business Review, so that it can live within its means while providing the service to the public that is required by the legislation and expected by taxpayer.

“LGO has been taking far too long to determine some cases. One of the Ombudsmen conceded that the delay in determining some cases was itself likely to amount to maladministration. This must raise questions about the LGO’s authority and credibility. The organisation needs to apply strict deadlines to all the cases that it handles.

“The LGO has also to develop a clear methodology to measure levels of customer satisfaction and publish the results every year. It must also put in place arrangements to ensure there is an annual evaluation of its own activities and decision making by an independent external reviewer, to ensure the LGO is itself fair, effective, open, transparent and accountable. Such a reviewer should be appointed by the end of this year and report for the first time no later than Easter 2013.

“Ministers must also take steps urgently to update the governance agreement – the so called ‘Grant Memorandum’ - that it has with the LGO so that the organisation can have a clear and comprehensive understanding of its relationship with, and responsibilities to, the Department for Communities and Local Government.”

In the report CLG committee concludes:

In future the LGO must be completely clear with all parties about the criteria it applies in order to determine whether cases are assigned to be resolved through a mediated process to achieve redress, or are allocated for full investigation and formal determination. Likewise the LGO must be transparent about the procedures that apply when any case is moved from one process to another – such as when
mediation fails.

The LGO management’s rationale for not publishing the 2011 Strategic Business Review in full was ‘unconvincing’ and suggests there may be insufficient appetite for change within the LGO.

The LGO must explain which findings from the Strategic Business Review will be implemented in full and in part, and provide a timetable for this in the response it makes to the Committee’s report.

The LGO needs to set out the arrangements and timetable for appointing the new Chief Operating Officer (and their responsibilities) in the response to the Committee’s report.

Government must explain how it will monitor the implementation of reorganisation at the LGO.

An annual, independent staff survey should be reinstated at the LGO with results published.

More info from the Committee's own website.

My Comment: More in a few days when I have fully digested the 90 page report but is certainly looks like someone has started to listen to all the criticism of the Local Government Ombudsman at long last.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Select Committee Report into the work of the Local Government Ombudsman

PUBLICATION OF REPORT

The work of the Local Government Ombudsman

The Communities and Local Government Committee will publish its Third Report of Session 2012–13, The work of the Local Government Ombudsman (HC 431), on Tuesday 17 July 2012 at 00.01am.
Advance copies of the report are available to witnesses under embargo, in electronic format only, from Monday 16 July at 10.00am. This is by request only. Requests should be made to clgcom@parliament.uk.

Media representatives may request a copy from the Media Officer at pearcehm@parliament.uk.
Following publication, the report will be posted on the internet on Tuesday 16 July 2012, and will be accessible via the Committee’s webpages.

Printed copies of the Report may be obtained, on publication, from the usual outlets, including The Parliamentary Bookshop and The Stationery Office (reference: Third Report of the Committee, Session 2012–13, HC 431).

FURTHER INFORMATION:

Committee Membership is as follows: Mr Clive Betts (Chair, Lab), Heidi Alexander (Lab), Bob Blackman (Con), Simon Danczuk (Lab), Bill Esterson (Lab), Stephen Gilbert (Lib Dem), David Heyes (Lab), George Hollingbery (Con), James Morris (Con) Mark Pawsey (Con) and Heather Wheeler (Con).

My Comment: Will it be as poor as the previous select committee report, which ignored the problems and did nothing to improve the system of administrative justice in England, or have they at last decided to improve (or better still get rid of)  the discredited Local Government Ombudsman once and for all?