The Ombudsman and me!

I’ve been rather preoccupied since 15th June 2009, when I received a bombshell letter from the Head of Investigations, a member of the Wales Public Service Ombudsman. I learnt that the Ombudsman considered that I had been contradictory and there was

“prime face evidence that I have or may have broken two of the council’s codes of conduct”.

An investigation would be carried out. On 3rd June, I had volunteered a statement to offer support to a very knowledgeable and experienced Cllr who had been accused also of breaking council codes over how he had conducted himself at a Head of Housing Selection panel last February. As I had been a panel member, I did not think he had broken any code. Knowing the misery, stress and loneliness of being accused of breaking rules in a former life, I knew it was my duty to stand up and tell it how it was! Big mistake! I then was caught up in the Ombudsman’s web and soon discovered that his office gives him immense and really frightening powers.

A councillor “must comply with any request of the Ombudsman or the Monitoring Officer in connection with an investigation Code 6.2.” “Any request” proved to be just that! I also learnt that the O has statutory powers to “require any person to give him such explanation as he thinks for the purpose of conducting an investigation”. No rules of cautioning are used as required under a criminal investigation and yet he has this amazing power to compel the accused to make a response!

Concern turned to incredulity when I learnt that the Ombudsman has power to commandeer any document he considered he needed for the investigation. The Council Leader fell foul of this one when his ‘private journal’, we now know he keeps to record phone conversations and other councillor related events, was commandeered so my private conversation with him ended up in the Ombudsman’s lair and is being used against me.

I just knew what was going to happen to me and confirmation finally arrived by recorded delivery from WAG on 13th October when a bundle of documents regarding the investigation and an invitation to come to a Presidential Adjudication panel on a date to be arranged. Apart from the time taken since June to deal with the ever pressing demands of the O, much of this week has been spent frantically putting my case papers together for my lawyers, E. Rex Makin in Liverpool. The time these things take to prepare has seriously eaten into my work as a councillor.

The senior Cllr, I chose to support received notice in March that he was being investigated for breaches of the code. He still does not know what the Ombudsman is charging him with, he has not been called for interview and he is in limbo, having had his Executive Special Allowances curtailed months ago. It seems the work of the Council is being distracted by the Ombudsman’s presence. I wonder why I have been given such preferential treatment and my case has been processed so fast? Lots of questions to ask when the time is right.

Fearing losing all my hard paper collation work and with the pending postal strike, I drove to Liverpool and had another unpleasant experience as I was totally lost & ended up in the bus station then landed in the tunnel leading to the delivery area of the new L1 shopping complex. Streets I had known for ten years some 15 years ago had simply vanished. It was really scary and unsettling. I eventually found a car park, delivered my precious cargo to my lawyer and I now await the next click of the Ombudsman’s saga.

How ironic that the day the tribunal papers arrived coincided with the WAG Local Government settlement for Flintshire: 1.8%, one of the lowest in Wales. This derisory sum must mean serious cut-backs in council services.

WAG awarded the public services Ombudsman’s Office a trifling £3,265,000 for 2009-10 to run itself. I’m told that, last year, only two cases went to the tribunal that I am facing. What Flintshire could have done with even a fraction of the Ombudsman’s lavish Quango settlement.

The Ombudsman and I have met before. The poor chap was obliged to appear on several occasions before WAG’s Audit Committee of which I was a prominent member. As chief executive of the Welsh Arts Council, it was his responsibility to explain how that particular Quango kept losing vast sums of public money. Clearly, he is a most suitable man to be the senior public inquisitor in Wales.

For the record, I am not writing this in any councillor capacity but under my own human rights of being able to express a view.

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