Reports that Peter Tyndall, Ombudsman for Public Services in Wales, is seeking new powers to prevent publication of some of his reports and prosecute anyone who discloses their content to the media have attracted almost universal criticism.
Plaid Wrexham has explained how the Ombudsman and the public authorities he investigates are already protected from the public gaze. Sometimes the only way in which abuses and maladministration by public bodies become public knowledge is if the complainant goes to the press.
While the Ombudsman, local authorities and other public bodies usually agree on steps to be taken to remedy abuses and changes to procedures to prevent the recurrence of such abuses, it is sometimes the case that the offending authorities are extremely reluctant to own up to any wrong-doing. Carmarthenshire County Council's begrudging and very half-hearted acceptance of criticism is a case in point.
But if there is one thing which bodies such as Carmarthenshire hate more than criticism by the Ombudsman, it is public reporting of what has happened. Naming and shaming and coverage of scandals in the media is the most powerful way of holding our PR obsessed institutions to account.
Despite the limitations on his powers and the secrecy which is built into the system, public confidence in Peter Tyndall and his office remains high. For the victims of abuse and maladministration he is a friend and the only hope they have of getting redress. It is a great pity that he feels the need to retreat behind the same walls of secrecy as so many other public bodies.
Whether Peter Tyndall will get his way remains to be seen, but in the meantime his office has taken steps to remove the majority of his reports from public view. The Ombudsman's website was very recently rejigged, and now only gives access to reports from the last two years.
Delyth Jenkins recently wrote to the Ombudsman asking him to restore the archives.
Delyth writes: I received a response to my letter dated the 22nd May 2013, on Friday
7th June 2013, from an Ombudsman's representative. She stated that and I
quote, "It has been the practice to hold the full text of public
Interest reports on the website for a period of two years. The rationale
for the two year timeline is that legislation, statutory guidance and
policies and procedures of public bodies change over time. Holding the
full text of reports on the website for long periods therefore risks
misleading people when they are reading about circumstances and
information, which are possibly no longer current or relevant". She
goes on to say that the summaries of investigations are contained in the
Ombudsman's casebook and their Annual reports, and that the summary of
my complaint, ref no 200600720, can be found in their Annual Report
What hasn't changed is the fact that Officers of the
Council, who were so severely criticised within that report, have not
been held to account because they were given anonymity by the Ombudsman.
believe that all reports upheld by the Ombudsman, should be public
Interest reports, and all Officers who have failed should be named and
shamed. That is the ONLY WAY the service will improve.
serious concerns that if these additional powers are granted to the
Ombudsman, to keep certain reports secret, then reports such as mine
will not reach the public domain and will not be acted upon. I was
forced to go to the press with my complaint because there had been no
accountability, and I still have serious concerns that Officers who were
so severely criticised by the Ombudsman, are still managing the care of
the most vulnerable people in society. It is now nearly 4 years since
the publication of this damning report. Not enough is being done to
protect the vulnerable.