Thursday 7 February 2013

How to say Sorry


Mrs Breckman has provided a copy of the "letter of  apology" which she received from the Chief Executive of Carmarthenshire County Council.dated 3 October 2012, three months after the Ombudsman published his report into the case.

The letter was addressed to Mrs Breckman only and makes no reference to Mr Eddie Roberts, her partner, although he was just as much a victim of the council's extraordinary behaviour.

After some preliminary waffle, the letter kicks off by emphasising that the complaint to the Ombudsman was only partially upheld. It goes on to say that while the erection of a second shed on the neighbouring property should have been determined by the planning committee rather than by the council's officers under general orders, the outcome would probably have been the same anyway.

Next comes a mangled attempt at saying sorry for not acting on the information provided by Mrs Breckman. The English is so strained and peculiar at this point, that it appears to have been extracted through torture:

We regret the failure to follow up the information that was provided as perhaps could have been.

Next comes the truly tricky part. What actually happened was that the council accused Mrs Breckman of falsifying and manipulating evidence.

The letter half-heartedly admits that this was the case, because there was "some limited reference"  to these accusations in correspondence and internal documents.

In the view of the Ombudsman, this gave rise to an appearance of a lack of objectivity on the Council's part, and it is very much regretted that firstly this appearance may naturally have flowed from this, and secondly that you would have found such observations on the Council's part as upsetting.

Putting aside the bizarre English once again, we know what the Ombudsman thought. What Mrs Breckman wanted to hear was what the council thought about its conduct.

Next the letter deals with the thorny subject of the council's policy on persistent complaints. Mrs Breckman was placed on the register without being told and not given an opportunity to appeal. The council justifies this by stating that "you were not given due warning that the policy would be applied to you (as recommended by the policy itself)".

It is hard to know what to make of that. Was it the policy's fault? Were the council's officers powerless to act because the policy was dictating what had to be done like a manic, out-of-control robot?

The letter concludes by saying "it remains the case that for matters to be complete that we tender our apology for those failings, and hope that these apologies are accepted".

The letter does not offer Mrs Breckman a meeting or any opportunity to ask questions, such as what does this letter actually mean?


The Ombudsman for Public Services has met to discuss what progress has been made by Carmarthenshire County Council in implementing his recommendations in the Breckman case, and it seems that he is generally satisfied that the authority has taken most of the steps he outlined.

In one important point, however, the Ombudsman was less than impressed, namely the extremely reluctant apology it has given Mrs Breckman and her partner.

As a result, the Ombudsman will be providing the council with a set of guidelines on how to say sorry, something which comes very hard to a council which operates under the principle of "never admit that you are wrong, and never, ever say sorry".

Just how sorry the Council really was can be judged from a letter which Meryl Gravell wrote on behalf of the Dream Team to Carl Sergeant (minister for local government) in February last year. The letter was written after the Ombudsman had expressed frustration to the minister about the council's lack of cooperation and its attitude towards people who make complaints.

Clearly, Meryl felt that the council's procedures were absolutely fine, and that any grumblings could just be put down to a few disgruntled individuals.

Getting from there to a position of being able to admit mistakes and apologise unreservedly for them will present County Hall with one of its biggest challenges, since if the apologies are to mean anything, a wholesale change of culture will be needed.


Anonymous said...

Sorry is not good enough anymore. The Welsh Government need to do something and quick.

Anonymous said...

could someone redirect this letter to the plain english society - there's a potential award in the offing