Saturday, August 11, 2012

LGO taking steps to change. Why? Because they can no longer bury the truth

Background

The LGO had already responded to the panning the received from the Government select committee. Read my response to that here. You can also read the highlights of the panning they received here.

Following that Simon Danczuk (One of the select committee members) wrote an article for the Guardian about the LGO becoming pickled in aspic. Read his Guardian article in full  Local Government Ombudsman risks becoming 'pickled in aspic'

The chair of the Commission for Local Administration in England (CLAE) better known as the Local Government Ombudsman has now also responded to the criticism from Simon Danczuk MP.

The following is my analysis of the LGO's response to extracts from the Simon Danczuk article

As previously my comments in blue.

Responding to criticism from Simon Danczuk MP, the chair of the councils watchdog says it is opening itself up to public scrutiny. Why was it not already open to public scrutiny? They have been in existence for some 38 years.

The job of the local government ombudsman is to provide an independent means of redress to individuals for injustice caused by unfair treatment or a failure of duty by local authorities and care providers. A job they have demonstrably failed to do for the last 20 years or so.

More than a quarter of these decisions identified significant injustice and achieved redress. Restorative justice is our focus and we have achieved this for thousands of citizens across the country. More spin and propaganda from the LGO. Whilst more than a quarter identified significant injustice it is significantly lower percentage than other ombudsmen. In addition, the majority of those didn't achieve proper redress, the investigation was closed down when the Council offered the LGO a paltry settlement in order to stop the investigation and bury rather than report the fact that the council was guilty of maladministration. The complainant has no say in the matter, complaints are closed and settled between the LGO and the council.

But I am acutely aware that as a vital frontline public service we must continually strive to improve our performance and adapt and evolve as an organisation. I welcome the report from the Communities and Local Government Committee for underlining the need for us to be ready and willing to be held to account for the quality of our work. Strive to improve their performance? I doubt it could get much worse, reports findings of maladministration have dropped to an all time low. However, there has been an increase since they were panned by the select committee, so the select committee must have touched a nerve. 

I have set out four objectives: provide a complaints service direct to the public which is accessible, responsive, consistent and objective; ensure sound decisions and appropriate redress based on impartial, rigorous and proportionate investigations; use our knowledge of complaints to identify best practice, promoting good public administration and influencing public policy; and finally, proper stewardship of public funds. Wow, they have just decided to do something they should have been doing for the last 38 years.

Openness, transparency and accountability must be central to everything the ombudsman does. During the first quarter of next year we will publish a summary statement online of every decision we make. This will mean that all of our decision making is open to scrutiny. It will also enable citizens to make informed choices – on care providers, for example – and provide useful feedback to local councils and MPs. If Openness, transparency and accountability must be central to everything they do, why for the last 20 years or so have they been so secretive, opaque and unaccountable? Or have they just decided to be open, transparent and accountable because of the panning they received from the select committee.

Councils and citizens expect us to work openly; we will make sure we understand their perspective and that they help to shape our services. It's a bit late in the day for the LGO to start doing the job citizens have expected them to have been doing for the last 38 years. Furthermore, they will never understand a complainant's perspective until the start to talk to and listen to, rather than ignore, dissatisfied complainants. As I and others have proven, you ignore a dissatisfied complainant at your peril.

[For every customer who bothers to complain, 26 other customers remain silent. - The average "wronged customer" will tell 8-l6 people about it. Over 20% will tell more than 20. Source: Lee Resource Inc] And the odd one like me will tell thousands :-)

I believe we are now taking the necessary steps to transform the Local Government Ombudsman into an organisation which is well respected for meeting the needs and the expectations of the public. If the LGO want to transform, as they suggest they want to do, they could start by doing the following. 

STOP
- ignoring dissatisfied complainants.
- trying to justify stupid and irrational decisions.
- fiddling statistics to make themselves appear more effective than they are.
- manipulating customer satisfaction surveys by removing dissatisfied complainants.
- report all council wrongdoing as maladministration.
- accepting council statements without validation.
- the spin, propaganda and bullshit.
- sending out sycophantic annual review letters to councils, which just helps them bury wrongdoing.
- fiddling comebacks.
- fiddling compliance percentages.
- fabricating documents.
- colluding with councils.
- letting councils pull your strings.
- tinkering with remedies to make them more palatable to councils.
- ignoring council lies.
- ignoring potentially criminal and illegal activity identified during an investigation.
- using fallacious reasoning to support decisions.
- withholding the full reasoning/rationale behind decisions.
- recruiting staff who have difficulty understanding logical and rational arguments.

Only then will the Local Government Ombudsman meet the needs and expectations of the public. When that day comes or in the alternative the Government get rid of them altogether, my job will be done.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

CLG Committee Findings - The failings of the Local Government Ombudsman

For those who don't have the time to wade through all the documents regarding the recent Communities and Local Government Committee investigation into the work of the Local Government Ombudsman I have extracted below what I consider to be the highlights. (The bits that probably made the Local Government Ombudsman stock up on Imodium.]

For those who prefer to read all the documents click here.

2  The organisation and structure of the Local Government Ombudsman

[31] We found the LGO's reasoning for not publishing the 2011 Strategic Business Review in full unconvincing. We heard no good reason why the Review and summary were not published simultaneously. Staff at the LGO are understandably concerned about the future of the organisation and their jobs and can reasonably expect their senior managers to provide full information. Publishing a summary without the Review risks fuelling a perception that senior management are holding back unpalatable news and undermining staff morale.

[47] While the lack of progress in updating the 1999 Grant Memorandum may arise from the state of uncertainty since 2010, we consider it unacceptable that the LGO should not be clear about its relationship with, and responsibilities to, DCLG. We would go further to say that it is of particular importance in such a period that the relationship and responsibilities should be comprehensively and accurately defined. They can then be revised when the situation changes. We recommend that as a matter of urgency the Government finalise the arrangements for updating and superseding the 1999 Grant Memorandum.

[48] We recommend that the Commission institute an annual, independent staff survey and that it publish the results.

3  Handling of complaints

[52] We recommend that the LGO develop and publish a methodology for measuring levels of customer satisfaction to apply for the next ten years and, if possible, develop the methodology in partnership with other Ombudsmen in the British Isles. We also recommend that having developed the methodology the Commission carry out a survey in 2013 and triennially thereafter.

[57] An organisation, whose primary job is investigating and determining whether maladministration by others has taken place, must itself take care to avoid maladministration. If it does not, it will undermine its own role and credibility.

[58] We recommend that as part of any new timetabling arrangements complainants are always informed if there is going to be a delay.

[66] We welcome the publication of the LGO's decisions. Comprehensive publication will provide a body of precedents and standards, to guide not only local authorities but those considering making a complaint on the grounds of maladministration.

[67] We therefore recommend that the LGO, as part of its reorganisation set up a review of the arrangements for treating evidence in cases involving serious service failure, specifically to what extent the LGO's processes should be brought into line with judicial procedures such as full disclosure of all submissions, with, if necessary in sensitive cases, redactions of personal information.

[68] Where the mediated process results in an agreement we consider that, in the interests of transparency, these agreements should also be published by the LGO, if necessary in anonymised form.

[72] We recommend that the LGO working with the British and Irish Ombudsman Association bring forward arrangements to ensure that there is an annual evaluation of the LGO by an external, independent reviewer to ensure that it meets the criteria of independence, fairness, effectiveness, openness and transparency and accountability. We further recommend that the first review form part of the proposed reorganisation of the LGO and that the reviewer consider the matters we raise at paragraph 69 of this Report. The reviewer should be appointed by the end of this year and complete his or her work and publish it no later than Easter 2013.

Conclusions and recommendations

The Strategic Business Review

[3] We found the LGO's reasoning for not publishing the 2011 Strategic Business Review in full unconvincing. We heard no good reason why the Review and summary were not published simultaneously. Staff at the LGO are understandably concerned about the future of the organisation and their jobs and can reasonably expect their senior managers to provide full information. Publishing a summary without the Review risks fuelling a perception that senior management are holding back unpalatable news and undermining staff morale.

Commission staff survey

[11] We recommend that the Commission institute an annual, independent staff survey and that it publish the results.

Customer satisfaction

[12] We recommend that the LGO develop and publish a methodology for measuring levels of customer satisfaction to apply for the next ten years and, if possible, develop the methodology in partnership with other Ombudsmen in the British Isles. We also recommend that having developed the methodology the Commission carry out a survey in 2013 and triennially thereafter.