Communities and Local Government CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by Paul and Gill Robinson

Function, Purpose and Remit of the LGO

The Ombudsman’s role states that, “it must consider whether the council has acted reasonably in accordance with the law”. This has not happened in our cases, although pointed out with legal references. The LGO do not bother to investigate illegal activity or criminal offences in our instances, even when this has been proved by themselves. This is actually condoning the activity—Amazing!

We don’t really know, after 4 years, what the LGO’s function, purpose or remit is, for when you raise issues with Investigators, some say, “cannot look at that or this” and yet it is stated in their foundation statements (as above), so you do not know where you stand.

Arrangements for Handling Complaints

What arrangements?—It seems to change every few months and with each Investigator.—Obviously, it appears, they and us never know what the procedure is. We have dealt with over 11 different Investigators, Assistant Ombudsman and area Secretaries and PA’s plus in addition public advisors on the telephones.

We have as Complainants to give the information and questions for the LGO to ask in detail, for them to look at the case, in the situations we have been involved in. That takes time and then they turn round and say there is too much information.

The LGO rarely visit cases. Only 6% a year we have been informed, usually nasty cases, We were visited three times, but other than that they judge from afar or from GOOGLE, in relation to planning issues.

The Investigators are not experts in the investigations they cover—planning, social care etc. They admit they know nothing about the area that they are dealing with. Amazing!! So statements from Local Authorities and trusts can easily hoodwink them and blind them with supposed science!

You cannot question the LGO’s ruling without going to a Judicial Review. Where do people get the money to do that? As OAP’s and ordinary paid members of the public the law is too expensive. Why is the LGO needed in its present form? Should it not be able to deliver enough punishments, compensation to stop recalcitrant authorities doing the same again. The LGO are toothless and the local authorities say this and know it.

Many of the employees of the LGO have an arrogance in their manner: An advisor on the telephone on 13 March 2012 at 9.10am said, “We answer to no-one. Don’t bother to complain as it won’t get you anywhere”. (We could name names and it is from the assistant ombudsmen down the ranks). Not very helpful at all!

We requested a letter to be faxed as we had not received it in two weeks, we were told that the “Fax is not working today”, when it actually was working. (When there had been a delay of a month and a half sending out a letter.)

14 March 2012. Cannot get through to Assistant Ombudsman, Secretaries or PA as requested, we have been informed at times, it was not allowed unless we were Corporate institution. This is discriminatory. Sometimes they put you straight through, and there is no problem. Very confusing.

The LGO does not bother to ask Complainants for additional information, even when it is offered.—Statement from one of the Investigators, themselves.

Statement from the LGO—“Don’t bother to send information as there will be too much to look through”. Unbelievable. Names and paperwork can be supplied as proof.

The LGO told us to “Wait until you have all the statements from the Local Authority.

before you reply to this letter, then the investigator issued a decision without allowing us to reply to what the Local Authority had said. They are only paper pushers in the main and may as well not be there. Good ones are like gold. In the past 7 months or so the confusion and performance has got even worse.

The LGO do not ask the Local Authority for written proof of their statements. They take their statements on face value, which we have found broke the realms of fantasy. The ICO, Audit Commission, Planning Inspectorate Bristol, in the main ask the authorities for proof. There seems to be an implicit view at the LGO that the Local Authorities tell the truth, nothing could be further from the truth than that. Where is investigating and objectivity, it does not exist.

The LGO do not even know the legal framework of the complaint they are dealing with, nor do they bother to find out because if they did, they would not come to the assumptions, decisions they do which is complete goblygook. They seem in the main to think the public are deaf, daft and stupid!

Their premise seems to be complainants are liars, stupid and can be railroaded and that is from us who have had 5 decisions go our way against two Local Authorities, but this is after four years of persistence and fighting.

As Complainants, we have to back up every statement, action with written evidence. Quite rightly! The Local Authorities make “amazing” (for want of a better word,) statements in their replies by telephone and in writing without written proof to back them up, and what is worse they are accepted by the LGO. The Local Authority in some cases vindicates the statements of the complaints, and yet the LGO still find in favour of the Local Authority in the face of the evidence!

The Local Authorities don’t bother about the LGO. In fact, they actively encourage you to go to the LGO as they say “it doesn’t matter, they won’t do anything”. The LGO is apparently no deterrent to illegal activity, criminal offences and mal administration to mention a few.

Complainants do not know in general what the LGO have suggested to improve the Local Authorities workings. Nothing has changed in our instance for four years; it is still the same old!!!!

No recommendations stated in our judgements. Why not?

Ordinary people should be given the opportunity to voice their concerns about the LGO. Complaints to you should be taken seriously and like wise by the LGO, otherwise it is no point them being there, as a government body, Members of Society with clout, connections or money, don’t have to go through this debacle, it appears.

The Secretary of State must have powers to censure the LGO and intervene and take responsibility for law and order and make the LGO accountable for their actions or inactions as the case might be!

The LGO do not get in touch with other Government Departments to verify the Complainants statements or cooperate with each other. Eg Environment Agency, Parliamentary and Health Ombudsman. One of our Investigators wished to combine a complaint with the P&HO, but was stopped, she informed us by letter. The LGO need to work with other organisations and vice versa if they are to be of any use.

We feel that there is a reluctance for the LGO to go against the Local Authorities, even in the light of evidence It seems implicit in the LGO’s workings, that the authorities are right. There seems to be no basis for justice, objectivity or transparency in their investigations in general.

The LGO’s handling of complaints is naïve. They do not realise the bullying that complainants suffer from the Local Authorities, nor the physical threats to complainants by the people that the Local Authority protect. ie .the person going against the law that are being supported by the Local Authority.

No penalty for Local Authorities that break the confidentiality of the complainant which can put the claimant in physical risk against the person/situation they are complaining about.

It is quite dangerous to embark in criticising the Local Authority, through the LGO, or people who have been let get away with things by the Local Authority as the Local Authority do not keep professional silences and can actively work against complaints.

It takes a great deal of time and effort on behalf of the Complainants to complain, and the rudeness from Local Authorities and LGO department members, some at Assistant Ombudsman level, make the situation unpleasant if not fearful.

The Internal Appeal Process of the LGO is a Sham. Just Useless—Nothing Else to Say!

No objective reasoning or common sense. They should not be able to police themselves. The appeal process consists of looking at what they have done, not what they should have done for a complete case, to the detriment of the complainant not the Local Authority .Where, in the judging of a situation and balancing views in our country, is it one sided, when the complainant is not allowed to provide evidence or their paper evidence is ignored completely. The appeal process just rubber stamps the many inadequacies and idiosyncratic procedures of the investigator concerned.

A sheer waste of time and effort. Paper filling exercise that is all.

Adequacy of Redress when Maladministration is Found

The value of the fine imposed (if any) is so small it is not worth the Local Authority investing in time, to write out and change office procedures. It is easier to continue as can be seen in our cases. It is cheaper to wait until the next time. When very little punishment will be given.

The LGO has no mandate to demand the updating of procedures, nor does it give timescales when improvements are to be completed, it appears.

Staffordshire County Council was found guilty on one major count of maladministration and although it was the lead authority (East Staffordshire Borough Council being the second), it received no penalty. Unbelievable.

There is no follow-up by the LGO, to either party to see if things have improved. This will not happen obviously if complainants are not told what recommendations have been made so as the situation does not arise again.

The LGO does nothing about the Local Authority criticising the LGO or telling the LGO untruths it just points out that what was said was not true to them as investigators. This can as in our case go on for two years!!!!!!!. What good is that! That untruth was fed to the complaints for thee years as justification of the LA’s illegal activity and criminal offences as pointed out to the LGO Planning consultants nationwide and solicitors of other residents where the Local Authorities have to be more careful in their correspondence. All costs time and money!

What happens about cases of Malpractice/Malfeasance?? Are these just ignored?

They should not be!

Courts of Law are just too expensive for us lesser mortals.

A revamped LGO should be given teeth!

Looking at what the government pays the LGO, money and value of fines do matter as they act as a deterrent to recalcitrant public bodies. Making authorities payback when they have not followed the laws of the land, paying compensation, would concentrate the LA’s mind wonderfully well. Naming and Shaming the authority and officials and not moving them off to better paid jobs would be a start, as in the case of Stafford hospital. That was a crass and unbelievable decision and an insult to those who died. Disgusting! This was the P and H Ombudsman but they are even worse than the LGO!

In our opinion as residents (the first expressed in this letter) the LGO are not fit for purpose, a lot of pen pushers getting paid for solving nothing, with the exception of a very few officers.

Impact of LGO’s Work on Local Authorities, which Leads to Better Administration and Improved Quality of Service

None of the above statement is true in the four years we have been dealing with them. We have direct and personal experience of four LGO separate nasty and large cases. Nothing has really changed.

We did not see the recommendations for ESBC and SCC to behave better. Were there any?? They certainly are still behaving in the same negative way.

The Local Authorities view is that the LGO has no teeth, could not care what they say and in the local newspaper article (Burton Mail, Burton on Trent), the CEO remarked that the LGO were wrong and ESBC was right. There was no follow-up by the LGO to his remarks, as far as we know. However this just makes the LGO look ridiculous in the eyes of the general public, and possibly is part of the contempt in which they are held by public and professionals alike.

The Local Authority does not pay any heed to decisions by the LGO or if the LGO is bought in. Often told in writing by the LA—“if you are not happy, go to the LGO”. No threat at all. We have been told as residents “nothing will happen anyway”. Witness proof.

Sixty-five concerns were raised by us with documented proof about our LA, not acting within the law and procedures. The LGO said that was too much for them to cope with and would only go back as far as a year. These were covering three years as it takes time to find out about issues, (when local authorities stop you getting information as they have done on two occasions with us and the ICO have had to take over). As ordinary people you may think things are not right but when you are blocked from getting information as we have been on two occasions and the ICO have had to take the authority to court. Seven years should be the minimum that the LGO regularly looks back too, not just in occasional cases. The LA’s culpability should be for that length of time at least if not longer.

Paul and Gill Robinson

March 2012

Prepared 16th July 2012