Thursday 7 February 2013

Another "apology"

It seems that the Ombudsman for Public Services will have his work cut out in teaching Carmarthenshire County Council how to say sorry.

Readers may remember (post here) how last November a couple of Carmarthen residents appeared on a Radio Wales programme to tell listeners about the council's shoddy treatment of members of the public wishing to exercise their rights to observe the council's public meetings.

According to BBC staff who seemed to be as amazed and shocked as their guests, the council refused to take part in the programme, but sent in a statement while the programme was on air attacking Mrs Williams and Mr Thomas, accusing them of spreading untruths about the council and having "an agenda", even though, the BBC said, it had not told the council their identities.

As it happens, Mrs Williams had her cards marked when she joined a campaign to persuade the county council to make changes to the St Catherine's Walk shopping precinct some years ago. Mr Thomas, who also happens to be a town councillor in Carmarthen, has as far as Cneifiwr knows, no "previous".

To be called liars on air by an anonymous member of the council's Ministry of Truth was extremely upsetting for them both, and Mrs Williams duly made a complaint to the Ombudsman.

The Ombudsman said he was unable to pursue the complaint on the grounds that Mrs Williams could seek legal redress (in plain English, she could sue the council for defamation). However, the Ombudsman did ask the Chief Executive to reply to Mrs Williams' original letter of complaint, and this is what she received:

Dear Madam 

I refer to your letter of the 22nd November the contents of which are noted, however I write to inform you that the Council has no comment to make.

Yours faithfully
Mark James CBE
The letter had no reference number, and was clearly typed by someone who has only a vague familiarity with Microsoft Word (alignment of words) and punctuation rules.

Mrs Williams has now forwarded a copy of the letter to the Ombudsman to add to his bulging Carmarthenshire files.

For anyone in County Hall reading this, here is a brief selection of the Ombudsman's tips:

What is an apology?
An apology is much more than an expression of regret. It can be relatively simple – and helpful – to say sorry that someone had a bad experience. It is much harder to apologise for your mistakes or for those made by your organisation. An apology is an exchange between two people (or groups), so getting the process right is as important as saying the right things.

Not very hard, is it?

The Ombudsman's letter also sets out 7 simple tips on how to make an apology:

1.    The timing of an apology is very important. Once you find out that you have done wrong, if you delay then you may lose your opportunity to apologise.

2.    To make an apology meaningful, do not distance yourself from the apology and do not let there be any doubt that you are owning up to your mistake (for example, say ‘It was my fault’ rather than ‘If mistakes have been made…’).
3.    The language you use should be clear, plain and direct.
4.    Your apology should sound natural and sincere.
5.    Your apology should not question whether the person who has made a complaint has been harmed (for example, by saying ‘I am sorry if you were offended’).
6.   Your apology should not make the offence seem unimportant (for example by saying ‘no-one else has complained’).
7.    It is also very important that you apologise to the right person or people.

If all of that is too difficult, perhaps the Ombudsman will oblige with a Janet and John version.


Anonymous said...

Absolutely shocking. The tone here sounds very much as if the Ombudsman is being made a fool of. Pathetic. Long past the sell by date!

nospin said...

The chief exec acts as if he is an arrogant muppet.

Anonymous said...

Mark James has the amazing ability to make a laughing stock of his authority and not least himself.

He could have referred to the internet by googling 'how to write a letter of apology' where there are several examples for the simple minded who have no idea how to write such a letter.

He is a disgrace.

Anonymous said...

Trouble is he's convinced himself hes always right when he's not!