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Tag Archives: Scottish Public Services Ombudsman

When “Sorry” won’t do : Criminal law should be used to protect the public from the ‘off the hook’ style self-regulation empires of banking, finance, legal and key public services

Broken regulation applies to many more services than just banks. During a week in which England’s NHS regulator, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) was forced to admit (in response to a review) it had covered up information relating to the deaths of babies at a hospital in Cumbria, and at Westminster, the Cross-party Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards report recommended bankers found guilty of a yet to be created criminal offence of “reckless misconduct” be jailed, it is not too difficult to put forward the point once more that regulation as we know it is ineffective and does not pose any deterrent to those it purports to regulate.

Let’s face it, if regulators are happy enough to cover up the deaths of babies in hospitals, and profit from such a cover up, what chance does any of us have in getting justice against any complaint lodged with any of the current regulators of any profession or public service ?

Diary of Injustice has previously reported on cases in Scottish hospitals where in one particularly case of the death of baby McKenzie Wallace at an NHS Forth Valley hospital reported HERE, regulation in the form of the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO) ‘Complaints Reviewer’, Eileen Masterman, did nothing to explain the tragic events, other than to produce a ‘whitewash report’ which only contributed further to the hospital’s cover up.

Time and again, we are promised change, told “lessons will be learned” and what happened will never happen again, but it does, whether it’s another avoidable death in a hospital, or an avoidable rip off of consumers and those who should face a court and be found guilty escape with a big fat pension while their victims are left to pick up the pieces.

The recommendations of the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards tell a story many consumers have known for years when it comes to regulation. With particular regard to the creation of a criminal offence of reckless misconduct, such a move should not only be limited to bankers, rather also it should be applied to all those professions where the long standing cosy clubs of self regulation have seen the public are let down time & again.

The key recommendations of the report on Banking standards could well be applied to the legal system, where client’s lives are regularly ruined by legal ‘professionals’ who rely on their system of self regulation to get them off the hook just as the bankers have so far escaped punishment for their actions :

* A new Senior Persons Regime, replacing the Approved Persons Regime, to ensure that the most important responsibilities within banks are assigned to specific, senior individuals so they can be held fully accountable for their decisions and the standards of their banks in these areas

* A new licensing regime underpinned by Banking Standards Rules to ensure those who can do serious harm are subject to the full range of enforcement powers;

* A new criminal offence for Senior Persons of reckless misconduct in the management of a bank, carrying a custodial sentence;

* A new remuneration code better to align risks taken and rewards received in remuneration, with much more remuneration to be deferred and for much longer;

* A new power for the regulator to cancel all outstanding deferred remuneration, along with unvested pension rights and loss of office or change of control payments, for senior bank employees in the event of their banks needing taxpayer support, creating a major new incentive on bankers to avoid such risks.

Just imagine if the ‘independent’ Scottish Legal Complaints Commission called for the same powers, and demanded the added protection of criminal law for clients whose finances are regularly wiped out by solicitors free to do it again and again …

Similarly, the key points of the report on Banking standards also tell the same story of problems in the legal profession, and those others in the justice system who work in, manage, and rule over our “Victorian” courts system.

* Given the misalignment of incentives in banking, it should be no surprise that deep lapses in standards have been commonplace. The Commission’s Final Report, ‘Changing banking for good’, contains a package of recommendations to raise standards.

* The recommendations cover several main areas including: making senior bankers personally responsible, reforming bank governance, creating better functioning and more diverse markets, reinforcing the powers of regulators and making sure they do their job.

Just as in banking, when there is no incentive to be honest in our justice system, whether you are a member of the judiciary, a court clerk, a solicitor or even a member of a self regulator of solicitors, the same deep lapses in standards have also become commonplace because there is no deterrent in current regulation and no fear of being caught.

The full report on banking standards by the cross party Committee on Banking Standards can be found at the following links :

If we are going to charge the bankers with reckless misconduct for ruining the banks, we may as well also charge the lawyers who ruin countless clients, and get away with it in the same way the bankers have done up to now.

If this were to happen, and the likes of the John O’Donnell’s and countless other reckless lawyers in Scotland face a custodial term for their wholesale thieving, attitudes within the prosecution service would also have to change, particularly in Scotland where our own Lord Advocate’s Crown Office refused to prosecute FOURTEEN lawyers for legal aid fraud.

But of course, when these events happen around the fringes of a stone age legal system where our top judge would rather listen to organ music and play ‘fly me to the moon’ than show up to answer questions in our sovereign Parliament about transparency in the judiciary, and perhaps give an indication as to why judges seem to think they are above the law, then what can we expect ?

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NHS DEATH COVER UP : Deputy First Minister to look into death of baby McKenzie Wallace after parents complain of ‘whitewash’ report by SPSO investigator Eileen Masterman

Death of baby McKenzie Wallace montageHealth Minister to look into NHS failures in case of death of baby in NHS Forth Valley hospital & SPSO report whitewash. SCOTLAND’S DEPUTY FIRST MINISTER Nicola Sturgeon has said she will look into the case of the death of little baby McKenzie Wallace at an NHS Forth Valley hospital after an exclusive report in the Sunday Mail newspaper revealed the baby’s grieving parents have fought a long & difficult battle to get answers over why little McKenzie died. The report in the Sunday Mail also revealed NHS Forth Valley FAILED to pick up on a rare heart defect in the couple’s baby which should have been detected during a 20 week scan but was missed after the scan, conducted by a trainee under the supervision of an experienced midwife was not properly interpreted. However, a senior consultant obstetrician who later studied the ultrasound pictures from the Stirlingshire hospital found a heart problem was visible and had been missed by both the midwife & the trainee.

On receipt of a further report into the tragedy, the family have accused the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO) ‘Complaints Reviewer’, Eileen Masterman of producing a ‘whitewash’ report in the SPSO’s investigation of their complaints against NHS Forth Valley regarding the deadly failures in the provision of medical services which ultimately led to the death of McKenzie Wallace just five days after she was born.

While the death of baby McKenzie has been a terrible toll in itself for the family to bear, the nightmare continued when their complaints to NHS Forth Valley over the events which led to the death of their child were mishandled, leading to the family using Freedom of Information legislation to uncover more facts not disclosed by NHS Forth Valley during their investigations and ultimately, making a complaint to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman who used an unnamed ‘expert’ to exonerate the hospital’s role in the death of the child.

The files accumulated by the family in their complaint to NHS Forth Valley can be read here : Complaint to NHS Forth Valley – Death of Baby McKenzie Wallace The responses received from NHS Forth Valley can be viewed here : NHS Forth Valley FOI – Death of Baby McKenzie Wallace and the report by the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman into the way the hospital handled the case, can be viewed here : SPSO Report – Death of Baby McKenzie Wallace

m2Former SLCC Chief Executive Eileen Masterman wrote SPSO report which exonerated negligent medical staff at NHS Forth Valley. In what may come as a surprise to many, the author of the SPSO report now branded a whitewash is none other than Eileen Masterman, former Chief Executive of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC), who took a six month sick leave from the SLCC and then employed teams of lawyers to negotiate a massive SECRET PAYOFF so large & subject to such a complex agreement, the secret deal was required to be signed off personally by Scotland’s Justice Secretary, Kenny MacAskill. Legal insiders commenting on the case said today they were shocked to see Eileen Masterman show up again at the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman so soon after resigning under a cloud from the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, with an official explanation of “ill health”.

mkmc slcc openingFOI investigations by Diary of Injustice revealed Justice Secretary MacAskill personally signed off secret unpublished payment to Eileen Masterman. One Scottish Government insider who now claims he “did not agree with the terms of the settlement as put to Mr MacAskill” said the Justice Secretary was out on a limb over his involvement in the secret payoff to Masterman. The insider called for all details of the negotiations involving Ms Masterman, the SLCC & the Scottish Government along with the amount of the secret payoff to be made public.

The Scottish Government insider said : “Clearly there is a public confidence issue here were someone can resign from the highly controversial and underperforming Scottish Legal Complaints Commission claiming ill health and then go back to work at the highly questionable Scottish Public Services Ombudsman who have similar public confidence issues. There must be full transparency here otherwise there can be no confidence in the SPSO.”

One senior solicitor who does not wish to be named has already claimed the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission had been told during the “bitter negotiations” that “Eileen Masterman’s health was so bad that she may never work again”. It has also been alleged that involvement from Cabinet Secretary for Finance John Swinney, who accused Ms Masterman of lying over secret meetings she took part in with convicted US insurers Marsh who handle the Law Society of Scotland’s notoriously corrupt Master Policy protection for negligent solicitors also ‘contributed to Ms Masterman’s alleged ill health’, an issue reported earlier by Diary of Injustice here : SLCC’s Eileen Masterman resigns, questions remain on attempt to mislead Cabinet Finance Chief John Swinney over secret meetings with insurers Marsh

However it appears after only a few months of leaving the SLCC, Eileen Ms Masterman was re-employed by Jim Martin, the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman, whose organisation was savaged last year by Scottish Government Minister Alex Neil during his testimony to the Scottish Parliament’s Petitions Committee, which Diary of Injustice reported along with video footage of Minister Neil’s testimony, here : Holyrood considers nine petitions against Scottish Public Services Ombudsman as Housing Minister dubbed ‘out of touch’ over accusations

The Sunday Mail newspaper spoke to the parents about their views of Ms Masterman’s report on the death of their baby. The Sunday Mail reported : “The couple have also criticised a report issued last month by Eileen Masterman, of the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman. She rejected the view of the Forth Valley doctor. Instead, she agreed with an unnamed expert who said there was no need for a second scan due to the limited nature of what could be seen. She said: “The advice indicated that, even if the scan had been done again, it would have been likely the results would have been the same.”

Andrew said: “I have no faith in Masterman. The SPSO have refused to say who the expert is or hand over their report. “McKenzie’s death cannot be for nothing. Some sort of lesson has to be learnt.”

spso-logoSPSO refused to issue any comment on Eileen Masterman’s report. The Scottish Public Services Ombudsman was asked for media comment on Ms Masterman’s position at the SPSO and to explain how she was able to return to work so soon. One of it’s Press Officers said : “I am sorry but we are unable to comment on the employment status of individuals. This would be unfair to those individuals and in breach of data protection.” Later, the SPSO angrily REFUSED to disclose any material in response to Freedom of Information requests regarding Ms Masterman’s apparent speedy return to work at the SPSO, with SPSO officials blocking all further attempts to secure disclosures via Freedom of Information legislation.

Nicola SturgeonScottish Deputy First Minister & Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon MSP. Deputy First Minister & Scotland’s Health Secretary, Nicola Sturgeon was asked by Diary of Injustice for a comment on the tragic events and the SPSO’s handling of baby McKenzie’s parents complaints against NHS Forth Valley. Questions put by Diary of Injustice journalists to Ms Sturgeon, which were accompanied by papers relating to the case asked : “Has the Health Minister any comment on how the complaint involving the death of the baby has been handled, the fact this family have received little support in spite of what appears to be a cover up by NHS Forth Valley, and why can one individual who travels between regulators show up again in an old post to carry on her work after claiming she could never work again.”

A spokesperson for the Scottish Government replied to the questions put to the Health Secretary, stating : “The circumstances surrounding this event are extremely tragic, and our thoughts are with the parents. Where recommendations are made in an Ombudsman’s report, we expect NHS Boards to fully implement all necessary steps to ensure that similar circumstances do not recur.”

The spokesperson continued : “The SPSO is an organisation independent of the Scottish Government and as such appoints its own personnel. The circumstances surrounding any appointment of any individual is a matter for the SPSO.”

The parents of baby McKenzie have since received a letter from the Scottish Government replying on behalf of Scottish Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon. Andrew & Joanne have now been told Ms Sturgeon has agreed to look at the papers relating to the circumstances of baby McKenzie’s death, and how Andrew & Joanne were treated by NHS Forth Valley & the SPSO. Ms Sturgeon also offered her condolences in the letter to Andrew & Joanne over baby McKenzie’s death. The parents of baby McKenzie have also asked for a meeting with Ms Sturgeon over the case.

Clearly, the tragic case of the death of little baby McKenzie Wallace, just five days into her live is yet another clear demonstration of medical negligence in the NHS and the cover ups which kick in to prevent any justice for the bereaved family. The family deserve answers and the life of a child cannot be lost in an SPSO report or a promise of “lessons will be learned” which are, as we are all now sadly too aware, never learned.

The Sunday Mail reports :

Grieving parents say medics missed tragic toddler's heart problem Sunday Mail March 25 2012Grieving parents say medics missed tragic toddler’s heart problem

Mar 25 2012 Exclusive by Russell Findlay

HEARTBROKEN parents yesterday told how they fear a midwife missed their baby daughter’s fatal heart condition because she was in the huff. McKenzie Wallace died just five days after being born because of a heart defect linked to rare genetic disorder Ivemark syndrome.

But mum Joanne Weir, 27, and dad Andrew Wallace, 31, say the condition would have been picked up at a 20-week scan if the midwife had not been annoyed that they asked the sex of their baby. The scan was conducted by a trainee sonographer at Forth Valley Royal Hospital in Larbert and was supervised by an ­experienced midwife, who did not flag up any problems.

But a senior consultant obstetrician who studied the ultrasound pictures from the Stirlingshire hospital found a heart problem was visible. He also stated that “he would have suggested a repeat scan or asked for a second opinion”. As a result, the midwife who supervised the trainee was ordered to undergo further training. The couple said that a consultant at Yorkhill Hospital, Glasgow, agreed the heart defect – known as right atrial isomerism – should have been spotted.

Joanne, who is due to give birth again in 10 weeks at Edinburgh Royal, said: “It should have been glaringly obvious and was ‘too big to miss’, according to McKenzie’s consultant at Yorkhill.”

Fuel tanker driver Andrew, who lost a brother and an uncle to the genetic condition, said: “A trainee carried out the scan but the supervisor was so busy moaning at us for daring to ask if we were to buy blue or pink that she was obviously distracted.“Apparently it’s all right, though, because she has now been for training – but this should not have happened.

“We had to make the decision not to attempt to treat McKenzie as all options were horrific and had life-extending probabilities of less than a few months. Had we known she had this condition, we may have considered ­termination early in pregnancy as it was incredibly unfair to put McKenzie through that.”

The couple, from Bo’ness, Stirlingshire, also said that another midwife ignored their concern about McKenzie’s blue appearance when she was born at Stirling Royal Infirmary. During Joanne’s labour, a sewage pipe became blocked below the maternity ward, which caused chaos. Andrew said: “They were distracted. They should have listened to what I was saying about McKenzie turning blue.”

It took 24 hours before they admitted any problem and the baby was immediately sent to the Royal Hospital for Sick Children at Yorkhill. From there, McKenzie was sent to the Rachel House Hospice in Kinross, where she died in her parents’ arms on February 18 last year.

The couple have also criticised a report issued last month by Eileen Masterman, of the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman. She rejected the view of the Forth Valley doctor. Instead, she agreed with an unnamed expert who said there was no need for a second scan due to the limited nature of what could be seen. She said: “The advice indicated that, even if the scan had been done again, it would have been likely the results would have been the same.”

Andrew said: “I have no faith in Masterman. The SPSO have refused to say who the expert is or hand over their report. “McKenzie’s death cannot be for nothing. Some sort of lesson has to be learnt.”

The NHS said: “We carried out an internal review and could find no evidence of errors in the clinical care provided by staff.”

 

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Holyrood, msps & their queasy feelings about regulation reform : Eight petitions against Scottish Public Services Ombudsman closed in under three minutes

LGC Committee HolyroodScottish Parliament’s Local Government Committee closed eight petitions asking for an independent review of the SPSO. As readers will now be well aware, EIGHT PUBLIC PETITIONS calling for an independent review of the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO) which received the backing of the Scottish Government’s Housing Minister Alex Neil in his capacity as a constituency MSP to the petitioners were closed in under three minutes by the Scottish Parliament’s Local Government & Communities Committee on Wednesday of last week.

The closure of all eight petitions, calling for a review of the independent regulator which investigates complaints against public services in Scotland, maintains the Scottish Parliament’s noticeably almost perfect record of refusing to consider any public petition which calls for an independent investigation into, or reform of any regulator, self-regulator, or ‘Ombudsman’ position in Scotland.

For those who were following the progress of the eight petitions calling for a review of the SPSO, along with one additional petition with similar aims which was closed by the Petitions Committee at an earlier hearing, I reported on these matters in earlier coverage which includes video testimony from Alex Neil MSP, here : Holyrood considers nine petitions against Scottish Public Services Ombudsman as Housing Minister dubbed ‘out of touch’ over accusations

The Petitions Committee then sent all eight of the remaining petitions to the Local Government & Communities Committee, reported here : Petitions calling for review of Scottish Public Services Ombudsman over complaints remit sent to Holyrood’s Local Government Committee

The Scottish Parliament’s Local Government & Communities Committee did indeed consider the petitions, for around three minutes, although as observers to the committee’s deliberations noted, it took the Convener longer to read out the details of the petitions themselves than it actually took members to debate their content in front of the cameras. The Committee subsequently closed all eight petitions involving the SPSO.

Holyrood’s Local Government & Communities Committee ‘discuss’ public petitions calling for a review of the SPSO (click image below to view video)

Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (Review) (PE1342, PE1343, PE1344, PE1345, PE1346, PE1347, PE1348 and PE1349)

The Convener: Item 5 is consideration of eight petitions that call on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to commission an independent review of the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman to make it more accountable for its performance, including the extent to which its investigations are fair and robust, and to widen its remit so that it can enforce its recommendations following investigations into actions of public bodies. The petitions are PE1342, by Phyllis and Robert French; PE1343, by Sandra Smith; PE1344, by Philip Hawthorne; PE1345, by James Smith; PE1346, by William Whiteside; PE1347, by Christina Cumming; PE1348, by Mr and Mrs Corbett; and PE1349, by Iris Innes. I invite members to discuss the petitions and to consider options 1, 2 and 3, as outlined in paper LGC/S3/11/5/5.

Alex Johnstone: Before the discussion begins, given some of the correspondence that we have had on the subject, I draw to my colleagues’ attention the fact that I am an elected member of the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body.

The Convener: Do you want to add anything further on the proposals in the paper?

Alex Johnstone: No.

John Wilson: I point out to members that, as a member of the Public Petitions Committee, I sat in consideration of these petitions.

The Convener: Okay. Do you have any comments to add to that?

John Wilson: No.

Alasdair Morgan: In view of what we have heard from the SPCB in Paul Grice’s letter and, more particularly, from the ombudsman the last time he appeared before us, we should take no further action on the petitions and close them.

The Convener: Do members agree to Alasdair Morgan’s suggestion, which is option 1, which is that we should close the petitions under rule 15.7 of the standing orders and take no further action?
Members indicated agreement.

The next day, February 10, the Scottish Parliament voted on the reappointment of Jim Martin as Scottish Public Services Ombudsman for a further six year term, with msps voting 98 in favour, 8 voting against, and 9 abstaining.

The reappointment of Mr Martin was announced HERE

Mike Pringle, MSP, who proposed the motion on behalf of the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body (SPCB), said : “It is the unanimous view of the SPCB that Jim Martin is the right person for the role of Scottish Public Services Ombudsman. We consider that he has brought about visible and sustained improvements to the case load management of the office. His regular commentaries demonstrate recommendations for public authorities to make improvements to their processes where that is appropriate. He has also introduced a quality assurance process that we believe will continue to drive up the standards that he wants.”

Mr Pringle continued : “Of course, the SPCB is aware that some members have not always agreed with the ombudsman‘s decisions, and we received some unsolicited representations about the reappointment of Jim Martin. The Parliament has given the ombudsman the independence to make decisions, and in doing so he is not under our direction or control at all. As with ombudsmen around the world, not all parties will be satisfied all the time. That is simply not possible, given the nature of the job. However, we believe that Mr Martin is the right person and that during his next six-year term in office he will continue to build on the considerable improvements that he has already made in his office.”

Integrity4scotland is a campaign which has been set up to “campaign for the highest ethical standards, transparency & public accountability within Scottish public service bodies. Readers who may have encountered difficulties with the Scottish Public;ic Services Ombudsman or have issues with the accountability of Scottish public service bodies may wish to visit their website HERE

As I was busy with other reports last week and some upcoming investigations, this article is published today to complete my reporting on the progress of the petitions against the SPSO in the duty of keeping readers aware of how the Scottish Parliament handles petitions involving ‘touchy subjects’ such as regulation of, well … anything.

 

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Petitions calling for review of Scottish Public Services Ombudsman over complaints remit sent to Holyrood’s Local Government Committee

Petitions CommitteeHolyrood’s Local Government and Communities Committee to receive multiple petitions involving complaints about SPSO. EIGHT PETITIONS calling on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to commission an independent review of the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman to make it more accountable which were heard earlier this week by Holyroods Public Petitions Committee, and featured a second attendance by Housing & Communities Minister Alex Neil in support of the petitioners, are now to be referred to the Scottish Parliament’s Local Government & Communities Committee.

The petitions, Petition PE1342, Petition PE1343, Petition PE1344, Petition PE1345, Petition PE1346, Petition PE1347, Petition PE1348, & Petition PE1349 all “call on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to commission an independent review of the SPSO to make it more accountable for its performance, including the extent to which its investigations are fair and robust, and to widen its remit, so that it can enforce recommendations that it makes following investigations of the actions of public bodies.”

I reported on the initial hearing of the multiple petitions calling for a review of the SPSO in coverage during September, here : Holyrood considers nine petitions against Scottish Public Services Ombudsman as Housing Minister dubbed ‘out of touch’ over accusations

Holyrood’s Petitions Committee referred SPSO petitions to Local Government & Communities Committee (Click images below to view video)

Since the initial hearing of the petitions during September, the Scottish Government, the Scottish Parliament’s Corporate Body & the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman himself, Mr Jim Martin have filed written responses to all of the petitions, available to download here : PE1342/A: Scottish Public Services Ombudsman letter of 1 October 2010 (23KB pdf), here : PE1342/B: Scottish Government letter of 5 October 2010 (31KB pdf) & here : PE1342/C: Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body letter of 8 October 2010 (144KB pdf)

Jim Martin, the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman said : “It is for the Parliament to determine to whom and how the SPSO should be accountable for its performance. In my 2009-10 annual report, I invite the Parliament to consider ways of strengthening the SPSO’s relationship with, and the accountability of the office to, the Parliament.”

Mr Martin went onto say : “I welcome external scrutiny. This office has adopted many non-statutory measures to ensure greater accountability for our performance.”

In commenting directly on the petitions before the Parliament, Mr Martin went onto say : “So it is to the handful of cases where a body refuses to comply that the petitioners’ question is addressed. My strategy to date has been to contact the relevant Chief Executive and bring about a conclusion I am satisfied with by the art of persuasion or the threat of publicity. In any case where this has not brought about the desired outcome, my option is to use the ‘special report’ mechanism in the SPSO Act. This allows me to ask the Parliament to take steps to enforce a recommendation. Since the SPSO was set up in 2002, we have not laid such a report, but I am now close to doing so.”

Concluding his letter to the Petitions Committee, Mr Martin said : “In conclusion, it is my strong view that commitment from the top and culture change, rather than technical legal compliance, are the real lever here. A very few bodies can be reluctant to admit fault and enforcement will not necessarily change their view – it might make them tick the boxes, but will not bring about the wider aim of encouraging bodies to learn from their mistakes and to see complaints as valuable tools to drive improvement. I believe that the work that my office is doing to lead the development of standardised complaints handling processes and to establish principles of good complaints handling (which we will bring to the Parliament for approval later this year) will go some way to bringing about the desired culture change.”

The response from the Scottish Government to the petitions claimed public bodies within the jurisdiction of the SPSO would be less than willing to work with the SPSO if enforcement powers were given to Mr Martin’s Office.

The letter from Scottish Government stated : “Having taken evidence from stakeholders, including Government and the SPSO, in 2009 the RSSB (Review of the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body) Committee concluded that it would be more appropriate for Government to legislate for improved complaints handling. The Scottish Government agreed the approach proposed by RSSB Committee in November2009 and the recommended provisions were proposed as amendments at Stage 2 of the Public Services Reform (Scotland) Bill. The Bill was passed by the Scottish Parliament on 25March 2010 and the Act received Royal Assent on 28 April 2010.”

“To give the SPSO enforcement powers would alter the function of the Ombudsman (from Adjudicator to Enforcer). This would also be likely to impact negatively upon the willingness of bodies within jurisdiction to work with the SPSO on complaints. Traditionally, bodies are normally quick to take remedial action where the SPSO sees fit for them to do so.”

The Scottish Parliament’s Corporate body took a similarly negative view, with its reply to the Petitions Committee, from the Parliament’s Chief Executive, Paul Grice, saying : “As the SPSO has procedures in place for dealing with complaints from members of the public who are dissatisfied, including publishing statistics on the number of complaints received and the outcome, we can see no reason to establish public complaints channels. In addition, given the SPSO’s independence, it would not be appropriate for the Parliament to have a role in the SPSO’s complaints processes.”

Mr Grice went onto say : “The SPSO in the exercise of his functions is not subject ot the direction or control of any member of the Parliament, any member of the Scottish Executive or the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body. This is to safeguard the SPSO’s independence.”

”On the SPSO’s performance, the SPCB has noted that since the SPSO introduced new internal practices and procedures the number of outstanding complaints has fallen significantly and that the average turnaround time for determining complaints has also dropped substantially.”

Mr Grice ended by saying it was for the Scottish Government to propose legislation changes for altering the SPSO’s remit.

In the case of Petition PE1342, the petitioners responded to the written submissions by Mr Martin, Mr Grice & the Scottish Government, telling the Petition’s Committee in an email : “Having read the reports of the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman, Scottish Parliament Corporate Body and Scottish Government, it appears that nobody, Jim Martin included,is opposed to the widening of the Ombudsman’s powers. We feel Parliament must improve the Ombudsman’s powers to enforce findings and also they must make clearer definitions of topics on which SPSO can comment.”

The petitioners continued : “One such is “malpractice”, for which the SPSO’s office provided a number of possible definitions, but could not provide definitive and practical clarification of the criteria which would be applied and to what degree malpractice might occur before SPSO would be obliged to comment.”

The petitioners ended their email stating : “It would also be very useful if the Parliament could enforce time limits on SPSP for the completion of complaint investigations. This should allow for extensions in cases of exceptional complexity or where new evidence emerges, but these would be the exception rather than the rule and would have to have the specific approval of Parliament or its appointed committee.”

An additional petition involving the SPSO, Petition PE1341, filed by Dr R A Rahman, calling “on the Scottish Parliament to conduct an annual audit of the public expenditure on the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO) and establish public complaint channels to examine the public dissatisfaction at the SPSO in managing complaints raised by members of the public.” was, according to the Parliament’s website “closed under Rule 15.7 of Standing Orders on the grounds that the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman makes an annual budget application to the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body which is considered annually by the Finance Committee and the Scottish Government, also that regular financial performance information is supplied by the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman to the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body.

The decision to close Petition PE1341 went onto state : “Further, Audit Scotland has made it clear that the external auditors perform an annual audit of the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman in accordance with the code of audit practice. Audit Scotland may produce a further report on the audit but, to date, ‘appointed auditors have produced unqualified opinions of the annual accounts of the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman and the Auditor General has not produced any reports’.”

Further developments will be reported, given this is a regulation issue involving public services.

 

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Holyrood considers nine petitions against Scottish Public Services Ombudsman as Housing Minister dubbed ‘out of touch’ over accusations

alex_neilScottish Government Housing & Communities Minister Alex Neil MSP. A WAR OF WORDS has broken out between a Scottish Government Minister & the Public Services Ombudsman over the performance of the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman, the independent body which investigates complaints made about public services in Scotland after Housing & Communities Minister Alex Neil MSP spoke in support of eight petitions lodged by constituents at Tuesday’s Petitions Committee hearing at the Scottish Parliament calling for the Scottish Government to commission an independent review of the SPSO.

The petitions, Petition PE1342, Petition PE1343, Petition PE1344, Petition PE1345, Petition PE1346, Petition PE1347, Petition PE1348, & Petition PE1349 all “call on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to commission an independent review of the SPSO to make it more accountable for its performance, including the extent to which its investigations are fair and robust, and to widen its remit, so that it can enforce recommendations that it makes following investigations of the actions of public bodies.”

Meanwhile another petition heard before the above, Petition PE1341 filed by Dr R A Rahman, also “calls on the Scottish Parliament to conduct an annual audit of the public expenditure on the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO) and establish public complaint channels to examine the public dissatisfaction at the SPSO in managing complaints raised by members of the public.”

Petition PE1341 filed by Dr R A Rahman calls on the Scottish Parliament to conduct an audit of the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (click image below to watch video)

Speaking on Dr Rahman’s petition, Committee Convener Rhona Brankin said : “It is suggested that we contact the SPSO to find out what steps have been taken in relation to expenditure. It is suggested that we also contact the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body, the Scottish Government and the Auditor General for Scotland. Is that agreed?”

John Wilson MSP (Central Scotland) replied, stating : “I am not sure whether other members have had the same experience as I have had with the petitioner. I want to put on the record that I have received a number of e-mails from the individual about complaints that he has made against various public bodies and organisations. The petitioner has certainly communicated with me, if not with other members, on the issues.”

“We should at least give the SPSO and the SPCB an opportunity to respond, so that we can find out what is happening and whether we can address the issues. Given the e-mail correspondence, it is clear that the petitioner conducts himself and his campaign against a particular body quite tenaciously. I wanted to make the committee aware of that.”

After a discussion on Dr Rahman’s petition, a transcript of which can be viewed at the Scottish Parliament’s website HERE, and noting the comments expressed regarding Dr Rahman by Committee member John Wilson MSP, the Committee agreed to write to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman, Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body, Scottish Government, and the Auditor General for Scotland seeking responses to points raised in the petition and during the discussion.

Housing & Communities Minister Alex Neil MSP spoke in support of eight petitions against the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (click image below to watch video)

Invited to speak in support of the additional eight petitions regarding the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman, Alex Neil MSP (Central Scotland) (SNP) said to the Petitions Committee : A substantial number of other people could probably have submitted similar petitions. There is a letter of support for the petitions from Murdo Fraser MSP, which is based on his experience with constituents. I know that Michael Matheson MSP is also supportive. I have spoken informally to others who hold the same view.”

“In some cases, the ombudsman has found in favour of the petitioners. The petitions are not sour grapes—they reflect a more fundamental concern about the performance and powers of the ombudsman’s office. I will give one or two examples of how lacking in robustness investigations have been. Unfortunately, they are not isolated examples.”

“It took three and half years for one petitioner’s case to be resolved. Even at the end of that period, the final report was so full of factual inaccuracies that, in her view, it was not worth the paper it was written on. In another case, which was a planning matter, the ombudsman refused to investigate the matter because “it is not the job of a local government planning official to check that the papers going to the planning committee are accurate”. That is a farcical statement by any standard.”

“When another serious case involving a health matter was investigated with one health board, a number of recommendations were made to prevent the same thing happening again. However, a year later, in the same ward of the same hospital in the same health board area, exactly the same thing happened. The ombudsman’s recommendations were not implemented and nothing was done about the lack of implementation, in spite of the fact that that was brought to the ombudsman’s attention.”

“I could go on all day with examples that show that, in my view and in the view of other MSPs and the petitioners, the ombudsman’s office too often fails in its duty and fails to perform adequately. Given that the Parliament spends just under £3.5 million a year to fund the ombudsman’s office, we need a far better return on our money, especially in these days of constraint. To quote one of the petitioners, it is not worth a farthing in terms of the quality of service that petitioners have received.”

“To be fair to the ombudsman, its powers are more limited here than is the case in other countries. That applies both to the circumstances in which it can investigate complaints—which are confined to administrative errors and failure to deliver a service, and do not include injustices that public bodies are alleged to have inflicted on people, as is the case in many other countries—and to the power to implement its recommendations, which is limited. However, the ombudsman is not using effectively the powers that it has. The other big issue is that the ombudsman cannot investigate an incident that did not happen in the previous 12 months, even if the incident happened only 15 or 18 months ago and there was a good reason why it did not to come to the ombudsman earlier.”

Mr Neil concluded his statement to the Petitions Committee saying : “We must bear in mind the fact that the ombudsman is the last resort for people. Most people do not have the money to take public bodies to court, especially if the public body concerned threatens to charge to them its legal expenses, as well as their own, if they lose. People of modest income really rely on the ombudsman to sort out problems that arise. To be frank, the ombudsman is not performing to anything like the required standard. The petitioners, Murdo Fraser, Michael Matheson, other MSPs, many other people who have used the ombudsman and I are strongly of the view that it is time to have a fairly fundamental look at the ombudsman’s performance and powers, with a view to getting far greater return on the £3.5 million of taxpayers’ money that it uses up every year.”

Several Committee members, all from the Scottish National Party made points on the petition, beginning with John Wilson MSP (Central Scotland), who, in a slightly contrasting comment to his reply on the earlier petition regarding the SPSO, apparently not supported by Housing Minister Alex Neil, said : “When the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman was established, the Parliament or Government did not put in place the powers to ensure that the ombudsman’s recommendations were acted on.”

“Mr Neil is right that people genuinely think that the ombudsman can resolve their issues and get answers, if not solutions, to the problems that they have encountered in dealing with public bodies, but they find that, even when the ombudsman’s recommendations are quite strong, the recommendations do not need to be implemented. Public bodies can note the recommendations without implementing them in full. Given that issue with the ombudsman’s powers, I welcome today’s debate as allowing us to take that issue forward to ensure that people can get some satisfaction from public bodies that are supposed to represent and protect them by taking decisive action against public bodies or individuals.”

Anne McLaughlin (Glasgow) said : “The petitioners have done a great public service in lodging the petitions. The Scottish Public Services Ombudsman should be a people’s champion. Someone who came to my office told me that they would go to “The Judge” column in the Sunday Mail before they would go back to the ombudsman. It would be in everyone’s interest, including that of the ombudsman’s office, to review the work and remit of the ombudsman so that we can give people confidence in what the ombudsman does.”

Nigel Don MSP said : “The original idea was that the ombudsman would investigate something and, if he pointed out malpractice, people would say, “Yeah—sorry. Got it wrong. Let’s put it right.” At the end of that, enforcement powers would not be needed. If we ask for enforcement powers, we must recognise—if my memory is right—that we will change the nature of the beast. That worries me, because it will mean in effect building another layer of a kind of court of appeal. In any legal or semi-legal system, we should try to avoid that, because it just means that the persistent litigant has somewhere else to go and that it all gets lost in the churn. I am concerned that we should not lose sight of the concept and try to turn it into something else.”

“It is clear that there is much dissatisfaction with what has gone on—we are all aware of that. Something needs to change, but I am not sure whether that necessarily applies to the enforcement powers. Perhaps the width of the investigative powers or simply the way in which the job is done by people—although I do not want to be personal—needs to change.”

After hearing all the points, the Petitions Committee agreed to write to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman, Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body, Scottish Government, and the Auditor General for Scotland seeking responses to points raised in these petitions and during the discussion.

Well .. not a bad days work for all concerned.

However, if I could recommend another target for some Scottish Minister to attend the Petitions Committee and call for a review, that would be obviously the Law Society of Scotland, who the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission revealed last year in a report on the Master Insurance Policy, have caused clients to commit suicide. The Law Society of Scotland covered up the deaths, and the SLCC has done nothing about the deaths or the problems which led to the suicides one year after their report was produced. If the Scottish Parliament doesn’t stand on its feet and do something about that, well then … your thoughts would be most appreciated ….

You can read more about the Law Society’s policy on client suicides and the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission’s do nothing approach after discovering it, here : Suicides, illness, broken families and ruined clients reveal true cost of Law Society’s Master Policy which ‘allows solicitors to sleep at night’.

Oddly enough, one year on from the SLCC’s report, not one single MSP out of the 129 serving Scotland has muttered one word on the subject. Life in Scotland is, therefore, very cheap when it comes to dealing with the Master Policy & the Law Society of Scotland …

Jim Martin SPSOJim Martin, Scottish Public Services Ombudsman said Mr Neil was “out of touch”. In response to the events of Tuesday’s Holyrood hearing and the criticisms of Alex Neil, the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman, Jim Martin issued the following statement : “Mr Neil is clearly out of touch. A full review and overhaul of all of our investigative procedures was carried out and implemented in 2010. There is no longer a backlog of cases; indeed other Ombudsman offices from devolved administrations have visited us to try to learn from our revised working practices.”

“The SPSO he is describing is the SPSO of 18 months ago. I am disappointed that he has not taken the time to bring himself up to date with our current performance. My annual report will be published later this month and should answer the concerns he has raised. “

“We have seen nothing to suggest that our investigations are anything less than robust. It is inevitable that some complainants will disagree with our findings. But that doesn’t make our conclusions or our investigative methods wrong. Inevitably, with each complaint I consider, either the complainant or the body are going to be disappointed.”

“I am not surprised that Mr Neil has taken it upon himself to criticise the SPSO in this manner. He is one of the MSPs that has sought to place undue pressure on this office and is the chief reason I established a protocol for our engagement with MSPs soon after I came to office. I recognise that it is the role of MSPs to champion their constituents’ grievances. However, the desire to sound tough in the eyes of the public must not tempt MSPs to stray into challenging the independence, and indeed, now, the purpose of, this office.”

“We were set up, by the Parliament, as the final stage for complainants. We operate within the laws that the Parliament laid down. There are complaints that, by law, we cannot consider and there are outcomes that, by law, we cannot enforce. Last year saw a Committee review the role and remit of our office, along with all of the offices created by the Parliament. In my view, that Committee review was an appropriate forum in which Mr Neil could voice his views.”

“For our part, we have sought and we continue to seek a closer relationship with the Parliament. We will continue to do that, despite this unwelcome distraction from our work.”

Now if only some other elements of Scottish legal society could gain such attention from the Petitions Committee, instead of having the situation where the Law Society of Scotland come in and order the Petitions Committee to close petitions which may affect its policy of protecting the truly guilty among us ….

 

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