COUNCILLOR CAPERS. 22 JUNE TO 28TH JUNE 2010.

I’m still mulling over the result of the Ombudsman’s Tribunal and is it worth the cost of appealing?  The Panel decided that I had wilfully mislead the Ombudsman’s investigation into fellow Cllr Patrick Heesom.  This serious crime warranted no sanction whatsoever. Amazing – the farthing cost scenario of former day decisions to deal with having to find a person guilty in a dubiously presented case.  Having put cart before horse according to my legal team by hearing my case before the major one of  how  the other cllr had behaved at a Head of Housing Selection Panel (which would have been the proper order of events): I was the O’s trial run. Nail me and the case against Patrick Heesom was that bit more achievable. I am really shocked that my good name has been so unfairly smeared by a wretched biased process.  It seems any evidence is accepted and  even letters I had written to seek clarification of what was going on, were quoted  & cherry picked by the opposition barrister to show my guilt.  This is just not justice. Having secured the result the Ombudsman wanted, Patrick Heesom finally received the result into his behaviour, some 17 months overdue.  There is much to question in this new report.  It seems that the Ombudsman was quite content to rely upon a statement from a former interim Personnel officer who had assisted with the selection process. Although she was not part of the case against me and her statement  was not given to my lawyers; from reading Cllr Heesom’s investigation document and that in my own hearing; the Ombudsman judged her evidence as far more reliable than mine.  How could this have happened as none of  her testimony was ever challenged? This is just one small example of  a  totally flawed system and to my mind is an abuse of authority and runs counter to every rule of natural justice. Having waited almost a month for the written judgement in my tribunal, I was unimpressed to receive a letter telling me a mistake had occurred in the drafting and the proper version was duly included.  Providing I don’t have to pay the Ombudsman’s cost should I lose, an appeal cannot be ruled out.   No one should have to suffer this dreadful process. Andrew Walsh’s (Head of Investigations) wide smirk when the judgement was announced, was not missed by the tribunal watchers.. Now for happier news. Reading committee papers for the Community & Housing Scrutiny on 23rd June, realisation dawned that a huge change was occurring under our new Head of Housing, appointed just six moths ago. As a result of that critical internal audit report into Canton, HQ of the council’s repair & maintenance service, consultants were employed to find solutions to the fundamental problems with the existing system.  The solution was brought to the committee on 29th June & we were all impressed  The suggestion:  Close Canton, outsource the supplies requirement, use a “lean systems” thinking to complete the review of the stores function and  close down the problem of buying materials that then somehow get lost en route.  A new deal was being offered to tenants as well.  Repairs could be done on Saturday mornings as well as out of hours.  Tenants satisfaction was guaranteed to improve quite considerably.  Those nasty ‘Spanish Practices’ mentioned  frequently by the former interim head of housing would come to end as the practitioners would either have to change for the better or be left behind.  The real gem was that sale of the Canton land will add greatly to the Council’s dwindling coffers as there was sufficient spare council offices to re-locate the staff.  All in all the proposals were  win win all round. Members were delighted with all this and most ardent critics, members  who regularly complained of little progress were happy to come on board.  It was even suggested that there was no need for the many reports we were always calling for regularly to update us on progress.  All members were jubilant that at last the housing portfolio was turning a corner!  A real buzz of goodwill & praise for officers’ hard work was the comment of every committee member.  Well done all Housing Staff.  Members even turned out at short notice last Tuesday, a hot afternoon to discuss topics that the committee wanted to review for the rest of the year. Priority was given to the problem of the shortage of affordable housing. I was keen on making this a top  issue as  we had discussed problems in the Audit committee.  Developers are required  to build a percentage of affordable  houses when granted consent to develop a new  estate.  Our auditors had noted that this council does not always press for the full compliment and insufficient follow up is taking place to confirm our decisions are respected. A firmer regime was clearly required and through the Community and Housing committee, we can help bring weight to bear to the problem.  We were unanimous that we needed to re-focus on chasing up the “wreckers”, tenants who trash their council properties and then do a runner.  This behaviour is totally unacceptable as it so costly to repair the damage, the house is out of commission for some time and experience has shown that they just move out of the area and wreck again in another area.  Yet again, members were working closely with our Head of Housing and with the list of what we wanted to scrutinise soon resolved, we went our separate ways.  Attending these committees is no longer a rather unpleasant chore.  How one good appointment of an officer can bring about such much needed change.

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