Open letter to James O’Brien LBC
I heard your frustration and absolute disbelief as you asked the question about what systems exist to hold Kensington and Chelsea council to account following their decision to close a meeting regarding the Grenfell fire because the media were in attendance. You articulated the commonly held belief that as public servants there must be means by which they are accountable and asked members of the public to phone in with suggestions. Unable to contact you at the time I have written this open letter to put you in the picture. The simple truth is there are no effective mechanisms by which any public servant can be held to account.
I heard you read out The Nolan Principles of public life, of which number four is indeed ‘accountability’ but when did you last hear of a public servant being held to account for a breach of the Nolan Principles? Never, they are not worth the paper they are printed on. In order to hold anyone to account you must have an independent body with the authority to investigate and the powers to apply sanctions. That body does not exist.
I noticed that no-one suggested going to the Ombudsman as a solution. The Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) handle complaints about local council provision and the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) handle complaints about all government departments and the NHS. These bodies are free to use and supposedly provide an unbiased arbitration service to protect the public from the abuse of power. Except, they don’t.
In 2015/16 LGO received 19,702 complaints from the public. They investigated 4,464 cases (22.6%) and upheld 2,260 cases (11.4%). Many of the upheld cases will be for minor issues – not full uphold. Is it worth taking the trouble to make a complaint to LGO when nearly 90% result in no uphold? http://www.lgo.org.uk/information-centre/news/2016/jul/ombudsman-upholding-more-complaints-about-local-government
PHSO are even worse. In 2015/16 PHSO received 29,046 complaints, investigated 3,938 (13.5%) and upheld 1,543 (5.3%) Just a 5% chance of uphold for all your time and effort. https://phsothetruestory.com/2017/04/19/welcome-mr-behrens-here-is-your-starter-for-10-question/
Most people discover this unpalatable truth after suffering a traumatic injustice. They turn to the authorities for protection and remedy only to suffer further abuse as those in authority manipulate the facts and collude together to avoid accountability. Many have described using the Ombudsman as more traumatic than the original event. It engenders a feeling of helplessness which can trigger post-traumatic stress disorders. Imagine thousands of ‘Hillsborough’ victims all fighting their own lonely battle for year after year with no worthwhile outcome.
The Ombudsman has no powers of compliance so must ‘reach agreement’ with the public body under investigation when applying sanctions. The Ombudsman does not follow up on any recommended action plans so even when the case is upheld no-body knows whether any improvements have been made. The Ombudsman only has the funds to investigate a fraction of the cases presented (13.5% for PHSO and 22.6% for LGO) and bends over backwards to avoid uphold. Clear breaches in guidelines are passed off as ‘shortfalls’ rather than ‘maladministration’ keeping uphold rates down. It is a farce James – it would be laughable if the complainants were not vulnerable individuals already reeling from injustice.
The media have continually failed to show any interest in this national scandal but perhaps now that we can all see how easily the wheels fall off in the Grenfell Tower case more questions will be asked and the ineffective and biased Ombudsman should come under the glare of publicity as a complicit organisation which protects the guilty at taxpayer expense.