Tuesday 17 February 2015

Council "Undemocratic and dangerous" says Cllr Sian Caiach

(Update below)

Back in 2012 I referred to an Ombudsman's report which upheld a complaint against Carmarthenshire Council relating to the unlawful extended removal of an autistic young woman from her parents, unlawful deprivation of liberty in fact.

Cllr Sian Caiach has been supporting the family throughout this lengthy, sensitive and complex case and has now written to the Minister, Leighton Andrews to intervene.

Her concerns relate to the refusal of senior officers to allow the case to be discussed by Scrutiny, despite her repeated requests over the four year period. She said;

"This Council continues to hide failure....This is not scrutiny of a local authority, it is undemocratic and dangerous"

The Western Mail reports this evening on the background to the case and today's responses from the Welsh Government and the Council.
The Welsh Government have said what they always say, that 'This is a matter for the council". Surely this approach can't be allowed to continue for much longer.
It's not exactly the first time calls have been made for government intervention in this council.

In her letter to the Minister, Cllr Caiach says;

“Following the resolution of this case, the health and social care scrutiny committee has not, despite my repeated requests to the committee chairs, discussed the case.

“The council acting monitoring officer, Linda Rees Jones, has said that the councillors have no right to discuss Ombudsman’s reports, criticising the council even if they are, as this one is, available to every member of the public on request and have already been reported in the press.

“She maintained that only special interest Ombudsman reports can be discussed, and these only if the Ombudsman specifically requests the councillors to be involved.

“As a councillor, I know the details of this case only from my contact with the family.

“I have no idea as to the safeguards which may or may not have been introduced subsequently to stop a repeat case and I know that the parents believe that the carers concerned are still working locally with vulnerable people.

“The health and social care scrutiny committee have not been informed of the case, now four years old. This council continues to hide failure.

“I believe that we councillors have no proper oversight. I am concerned that other families, who were not like the parents in this case – middle class articulate people with the funds to engage specialist lawyers – may have lost their children with learning difficulties to long term care in similar circumstances.

“This is not scrutiny of a local authority. It is undemocratic and dangerous.”

It was only a few weeks ago that the Ombudsman issued a Public Interest Report concerning the council's care of a four year old girl. The "abject" failings were found to be "fundamental and inexcusable" and the complaint handling was "very poor.... defensive and lacked objectivity"

The Ombudsman required the council to publish the report on it's website for three weeks, and it did so. The three weeks was up last Thursday and, allowing a couple of days for the press office to follow orders, it disappeared yesterday, although for now, the link still works from this blog.

This is not efficiency but reputation management at the deliberate expense of proper scrutiny. To give an example of why this is not simple efficiency, according to their website, Roger Jones who retired last summer is still the Director of Resources, this information has yet to be updated.
The Wales Audit Office reports issued last year didn't appear at all on the website other than within the agendas of council meetings. Hiding failure, as Cllr Caiach rightly says.

This toxic, defensive culture has to change but as has been said, that change is never going to happen without a clean sweep of the top brass, along with it's cavalier and incompetent internal legal advice.

Update 18th Feb;
The recent Ombudsman's Public Interest report has just appeared on the agenda for next Tuesday's council meeting.
Councillors are being asked to 'accept' that improvements have been made. As this is the annual budget meeting, one hopes the timing wasn't deliberate to overshadow and minimise any debate over the ombudsman's findings.
The webcast will start at 10am.

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