Local Government Ombudsman: Freedom of Information

Communities and Local Government written question – answered on 15th July 2008.

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Photo of Eric Pickles Eric Pickles Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government if she will bring forward legislative proposals to remove exemptions from the Freedom of Information Act 2000 of the Local Government Ombudsman under Sections 32 and 44 of the Local Government Act 1974; and if she will make a statement.

Photo of Parmjit Dhanda Parmjit Dhanda Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Communities and Local Government

There are no plans to remove the exemptions from the Freedom of Information Act that currently apply to the Local Government Ombudsman. The removal of such exemptions could deter people suffering injustice due to a council's maladministration from raising the matter with the ombudsman and hence obtaining redress.

It is the policy of the Local Government Ombudsman to operate as openly as possible without putting at risk its investigations and the service provides for the public.

Does this answer the above question?

Yes0 people think so

No74 people think not

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stu Hardwicke Carruthers
Posted on 16 Jul 2008 3:06 pm (Report this annotation)

In 2006 / 2007 the Local Government Ombudsman made about 12,558 investigations into local government (controlled by the local political associations who choose who they wish to support to return to Parliament).

The LGO exercised discretion not to investigate about 2,540 of these complaints, and identified that about 2,291 fell outside his jurisdiction. The LGO conducted no investigation into about 39 per cent (about 4,831) of the complaints submitted.

The LGO of the remaining approx 8,000 complaints formally identified maladministration and injustice on about 125 occassions (of which at least three Council's have refused to accept that this was this case). The LGO informally identified that there had been maladministration causing injustice about 2,835 times.

The issue is mainly to do with the LGO's discretion. They are all former Chief Executives of council's. They have all been identified as not competently running council Complaint's systems. On grounds of probity and merit it is very unlikely that any of the current LGO's would have been recommended for appointment by the minister and their Department if they had followed the guidance of the Commissioner for Public Appointments.

You can only access information held by the LGO if it is subject to an investigation.. and the issue is very much the LGO's discretion to identify that the local associations running Council's are not fit for purpose.

Trevor Nunn
Posted on 16 Jul 2008 4:29 pm (Report this annotation)

It may be the published policy of the Local Government Ombudsman to operate as openly as possibly but the reality of the situation is very different. When a Local Government Ombudsmen use such exemptions as an excuse for not even giving the complainant involved material information about their own case there is something seriously wrong. All Local Government Ombudsmen do is cover up local authority maladministration for the benefit of their ex colleagues and friends in local authorities. Their partial exemption from the Freedom of Information Act just makes their job that little bit easier. Last year they found and reported maladministration in less than 1% of all complaints submitted to them. And even then many councils such as Trafford just ignore their recommendations. Local Government Ombudsman and other private and secretive courts/tribunals are an affront to justice and as such will always be considered by observers as a court of star chamber set up to protect the perpetrators and the government rather than protect the victim.

Keith Edmunds
Posted on 16 Jul 2008 7:52 pm (Report this annotation)

The fact of the matter is that Council's have no exemption under the Freedom of Information Act; consequently any information that the Local Government Ombudsman refuses to release under the Freedom of Information Act can be obtained by making a similar request to the relevant Council. The immunity therefore under sections 32 and 44 of the Local Government Act, held by the Local Government Ombudsman is entirely erroneous, unnecessary and anachronistic.
The reality of the situation is that this corrupt Institution abuses its immunity under the Freedom of Information Act to perpetrate the many cover ups of maladministration it makes on behalf of Councils against complainants. Judgements by the Freedom of Information Commissioner and The Information Tribunal against the local government Ombudsman amply demonstrate this. When judgements have been made to release information, it has been shown that the information is entirely immaterial and has been witheld to give the Local Government Ombudsman some sort of credibility, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, when he covers up council maladministration.
Much evidence against this corrupt institution can be found on the following websites:
The final nail in the coffin of this corruption is that in his own MORI surveys the Local Government Ombudsman finds maladminstration for only 1.6% of complainants. This is of course, for anyone with the smallest knowledge of statistics, a statistical impossiblity, and a damning example of institutional corruption.
I have a petition on the No 10 Downing Street petition site on this very subject that expired on 3 July 2008. We are still waiting for an answer from our illustrious Prime Minister. If he covers this up, then there can be no doubt that his claims to improve public services are completely bogus. If the Government wish to clean up the public sector and the worst example of it - Local Government, then they should begin with the corrupt Local Government Ombudsman Institution.

Keith Edmunds
Posted on 16 Jul 2008 8:13 pm (Report this annotation)

Sorry the first URL in my comments above is wrong. It should be:

Keith Edmunds
Posted on 16 Jul 2008 8:26 pm (Report this annotation)

Dhanda's argument is the failed one that MP's used to try and get themselves off the hook of the Freedom of Information Act, namely that if they were not exempt, then their constituents would be fearful of making complaints to them in case sensitive information was subsequently released. The Courts trashed this nonsense, and, here we have it being repeated again by a junior Minister.
You have no credibility Minister, with this argument - the Courts have already said so!

stu Hardwicke Carruthers
Posted on 16 Jul 2008 8:32 pm (Report this annotation)

Let us be quite clear about the service element for the Parliamentarian's..

In 1999 after administrative tampering with the Electoral Roll was identified by South Norfolk District Council ['SNDC'].. and used for harrassment of residents (due to the way the data sets are reintegrated using Post Code and House Number).. the LGO failed to investigate properly..

In 2002 the SNDC admitted to having returned a member of parliament (Richard BACON.. backbencher of the year).. without having a returning officer and also admitted to not having appointed an electoral registration officer (quite a few people were denied the franchise.. whilst non-existent voters were also included). BACON thought it best to do nothing.. (probably in his own interest) The SNDC acted in this way on the advice of their solicitor.

The Ombudsman identified that tampering (administratively) with the democratic infrastructure was not maladministration.. the associated injustice was self evident.

The LGO refused to bring the democratic defecit to the attention of the local associations of the political parties responsible for running the SNDC.. It was the Ombudsman's discretion to bring Parliament into disrepute.

Keith Edmunds
Posted on 16 Jul 2008 11:41 pm (Report this annotation)

This corrupt Institution has been hijacked by the Local Government Association who unbelievably make the appointments of Local Government Ombudsmen. From the lofty aims of the 1974 Local Government Act, current Ombudsmen now seem to have been appointed as a direct consequence of having the greatest number of cases of maladministration found against them, while serving as Chief Executives of Local Authorities in their previous appointments - (White - Hackney), (Seex - Norwich). All three Ombudsmen are ex Chief Executives of Local Authorities and the majority of their staff are also recruited from Local Goverment (although they have refused to answer a Freedom of Information request as to the exact number). This is a scandal and a direct affront to a supposed modern democracy. Their own Mori satisfaction polls are a direct testament to their corrupt practices. The entire country is sick to death of paying Council Tax to self-serving, incompetent Local Authorities. Since 1997 Council Tax has doubled and services have declined. There is no accountability, because their regulating authority, the Local Government Ombudsman, has been hijacked by the very organisation it is supposed to regulate.
If you are serious about reforming public services; what are you going to do about this scandal Gordon Brown?

stu Hardwicke Carruthers
Posted on 17 Jul 2008 7:25 am (Report this annotation)

The responsibility for recommending the appointment of WHITE, SEEX and REDMOND as Local Government Ombudsman ['LGO'] resides with the Secretary of State and their Department (Communities and Local Government).

The scandal originates from the Secretary of State and their Department. WHITE, SEEX and REDMOND were all responsible for the administration of Council Complaints Systems. They were all found wanting in their administration of these systems prior to their appointment as LGO by the Local Government Ombudsman. They were also identified as having supported failures in the Council's they ran by the Audit Commission.

On grounds of independence, probity and merit the Commissioner for Public Appoinments Office has identified that the appointment of WHITE, SEEX and REDMOND raises questions about the judgement of the Secretray of State (Communities and Local Government) and their Department related to the recommendation of their appointment to the position of LGO.

WHITE, SEEX and REDMOND protect the members of the Local Associations of the Political Parties that run Council's from identification of the bias, bad faith and procedural impropriety associated with their activities.

WHEN IS THE GOVERNMENT GOING TO CLEAN UP THE POLITICAL PARTIES, and make them responsible for their acts of bias, bad faith and procedural impropriety (often known as maladministration). The injustice associated with the failure in judgement of the Secretary of State and their Department is apparent.