Sunday 27 January 2013

In whose interest?

Update 28 January

Mrs Breckman has been in touch to say the following:

My feelings are that of course it should be discussed openly in the chamber, and that all councillors are made aware of its contents.

My overwhelming anger over all of this, is not just the planning issues, they are bad enough, but that I was pilloried for telling the truth, lied about to all councillors and others, (another reason all councillors should be made aware of the seriousness of it), leaving the overriding issue one of misconduct in public office.  Of course the Ombudsman cannot and doesn't take that into consideration when making his investigations.  As we all know he can only look for and find maladministration.  
I am intending writing back to Carl Sargeant, asking that he reconsiders, and meets with me, as he needs a much clearer understanding from my perspective of the misconduct of certain officers and the damage they can cause to ones life.  Until he is fully acquainted with all the facts he cannot make a fair judgement on whether there needs to be a Public Inquiry.


On 31st January the Planning Committee of Carmarthenshire County Council will meet to decide various planning applications as usual, but what is highly unusual about this meeting is the final agenda item listed only as "Outcome of Ombudsman Investigation".

Officers of the council are recommending that a public interest exemption should be applied to exclude any members of the public and press present from the discussion.

The case they will be reviewing is in fact that of Mrs Trisha Breckman and her partner Eddie Roberts who suffered serious injustice at the hands of the County Council over a period of years.

The Ombudsman's report was published in July 2012, and it will have taken the council 7 months to get round to putting it in front of a group of councillors. It is quite clear that the Ombudsman and many councillors were expecting the report to go before the full council, but senior officers within the council appear to have been hell-bent on ensuring that the report receives as little oxygen as possible.

Every trick in the book, and several not in any book, have been used to prevent open scrutiny of the report, including last week's removal of  the standard "Any Other Business" item on a meeting agenda to foil an attempt by Mrs Breckman's councillor to raise the matter in a public meeting.

Normally, it is true, reports which deal with the affairs of individuals are rightly subject to a public interest exemption. But this is not a normal report. Details of the affair and the report have been the subject of newspaper reports and a television documentary. Everybody knows the identities of the people involved, and anybody who wants a copy of the report can write to the Ombudsman to obtain one.

The usual reasons for applying an exemption do not apply in this case, and the public has a very strong interest in hearing what the Council has to say about it and what steps it is taking to ensure that nothing of the kind ever happens again.

The council's failings are not limited to planning enforcement, but include much wider failings in the way in which the authority deals with the public. That is why it should be heard by the full council in public.

By insisting that the report and the outcome are discussed behind closed doors, it is clear that what is being served here is not the public interest but that of the council's officers.


Anna Mosity said...

Surely a complaint to the Ombudsman is in order over this? And then the whole loop of doing nothing will start all over again...

Is anybody in WAG listening? Does anybody care up there?

With the benefit of hindsight devolution was a mistake. It was supposed to bring decision making closer to the Welsh electorate, but all it has done is put more power in the hands of unelected officers.

Anonymous said...

The Welsh government is keen to let local councils bear the wrath of the population of Wales. Hence no action on council tax rises, attempts to cap social welfare costs and so on.

Devolution hasn't failed. But we clearly need a whole lot less politicians in Cardiff Bay. If only because we can't afford them!

Anonymous said...

if any one doubts the need for a public inquiry then they really should read the ombudsman's report into officers conduct spanning 9 years.what is truly shockng is that even now they seek to withold important evidence by deliberately
portraying the report as being a planning issue.There is a whole lot more in the report than that which the ombudsman himself exposed in the tv programme.This should be presented to ALL COUNCILLORS as orderd by the ombudsman.A PUBLIC INQUIRY IS IMPERATIVE

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately the ombudsman only requested that the case be seen by councillors. He has never ruled that all councillors should see his cases. This is used by councils to justify referring cases to the a executive board only, I'm suprised planning committee are even allowed to see it. Of course, it will be an agenda item in full council when the planning minutes are received in the following month!

Delyth Jenkins said...

I hope the County Councillors do not fall into the same trap with this case as they seem to have done when my report was briefly presented to them in Nov 2009.
I believe that the reason I was yelled at to 'back off a bit' in the presence of my former M.P. when the Ombudsman's report into my complaint was published, was to allow the Officers more time.
If Councillors had demanded answers to questions they should have asked at the time, then I have no doubt that heads would have rolled. It is a disgrace that so many of the Officers hiding behind letters of the alphabet were protected and are still there. I believe there needs to be a public enquiry not only into the Breckman case but also into other cases including mine. I have had enough of hearing that lessons have been learnt and that this will never happen again.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, but I am beginning to think that Ombudsman's investigations and reports, even when they are upheld, are pointless because the outcome is not being dealt with as it should.
Once the whole issue dies down nothing changes. What a waste of money!

Delyth Jenkins said...

I can well associate with Mrs Breckman's anger for the way she was treated. I was accused by one senior officer of a conspiracy and breaching confidentiality. I did nothing of the sort and the Ombudsman completely vindicated my complaint. Yet it seems he remains on C.C.C payroll.

Delyth Jenkins said...

Ironically, the same senior officer was severely criticised by an investigating officer from within the Chief Executive's department for breaching confidentiality, but it seems no disciplinary took place. This information was taken from documentation sent to me by the Council. Yet the Director refuses to deal with it. There are so many facts about this case too that have not reached the public domain for obvious reasons.

Plaid Gwersyllt said...

They can't do this legally. The Ombudsman published this report as a Section 16 report - A public interest report. Section 16 reports require the authority publicise the contents at their own costs which I don't suppose they have done. Secondly how can a Public Interest Report EVER be discussed in a closed meeting? Where are the grounds under Schedule 12, Local Government Act 1972? There aren't any because the owner of the report is the Ombudsman and the complainant Mrs Breckman. Has the pariah council even asked Mrs Breckman how she wants the report treated. To be honest Plaid Cymru and PHG should complain to the WAO AND Minister. He sent Commissioners in to Ynys Mon, seems to me that CCC are equally as deserving!

Patricia B. said...

Anon. 17.19

I agree with you comment. More serious is the total disrespect this authority shows to the Ombudsman who is the arbiter in these matters. When the Ombudsman has duly carried out his investigations, (which in my case took a year of very hard work by the investigator),and finds 'maladministration' the authority should without question accept his findings and act upon them. To do otherwise makes the Ombudsman's role redundant.

Anonymous said...

Plaid Gwersyllt

It might not be legal what they are doing but they are doing it anyway. They don't care and it seems that no one is going to stop them. It is really scandalous!
It might just come back to bite the County Councillors very soon.
I hope they are prepared because Officers of the Council won't help them. They will be too busy saving their own jobs!

Delyth Jenkins said...

Plaid Gwersyllt 22.50

This report was issued as a Section 21 report of the Public Services Ombudsman (Wales) Act 2005
(and not under section 16). It seems that the Ombudsman did not deem it a Public Interest Report.(don't know why). Therefore the Council did not have to publicise it like they would have had it been issued under section 16.

Anonymous said...

Maybe someone should be asking the Ombudsman why it was issued as a Section 21 Report and not a Section 16 report, as there are obviously public interest issues here!

Anonymous said...

Reports shouldn't be issued as section 21 reports at all as far as I am concerned because if the Council is failing in the standard of service it provides, the public should know about it. What happened to openness and transparency?