One reason that rulings by the Local Government Ombudsman against local authorities, such as Croydon, attract so little attention is that the Ombudsman’s office never insists that the offending councils should publish the findings in full on their own website. Were they to do so, the likely reaction from the public the councils are supposed to serve would be one of complete horror, and anger.
To the end of June this year, Croydon Council had accumulated a dirty dozen rulings from the Ombudsman in 2019, after residents have gone through a lengthy process of internal complaints with the council, sometimes over several years.
Not a single one of the Ombudsman’s often withering criticisms of the council’s handling of cases – on planning, children’s services, education, or adult social services – has ever appeared on Croydon Council’s own website. While the council has often been obliged to issue an apology, few outside those directly involved with the cases will ever have been aware of the circumstances.
The apologies are anodyne and anonymous.
No £100,000 per year council executive ever has to put their name, publicly, to the errors and the apologies. No tally is kept – except here on Inside Croydon – of the repeat failures of our public servants. No council cabinet member, elected councillor, such as Alisa Flemming, ever has to take responsibility for the fault and failures. There’s no real accountability.
In effect, by the council being able to suppress the information about its proven failures, it can carry on as if its errors never happened. There’s no imperative for improvement.
Here, because Croydon Council never does, we reproduce another of the Ombudsman’s latest rulings, in this instance following a complaint surrounding the council’s failures around an Education Health and Care Plan – EHCP – for a child with special educational needs.
The litany of errors, maladministration and stubborn refusal to serve the needs of the child ought to fill most right-thinking people with disgust at the conduct of the council staff.
Yet Inside Croydon is aware that the practices listed here have also occurred in other cases where the council has badly failed youngsters and their families in very similar circumstances.
In this case, it was the mother’s third complaint to the Ombudsman about the council’s failure to provide an education for her son. As the Ombudsman’s report states, “In the first complaint, we found the council had failed to provide an education for Y for the period November 2016 and June 2017. In the second complaint, we found the Council at fault for failing to provide an education for parts of the 2017-2018 school year.” Which amounts to a child missing almost two full school years of education because of Croydon Council.
This latest, third complaint against Croydon Council from “Ms X” has been upheld because “the council amended her son, Y’s, Education Health and Care Plan (EHC plan) without consulting her and has failed to provide suitable full-time education for Y this academic year…”
That makes it a third year of schooling the son has missed, following two previous complaints being upheld against the council. “Ms X is concerned the council is continuing to fail in its duty to her son.”
Anyone might be forgiven for assuming that the council has simply been ignoring the decisions of the Ombudsman.
But then this is where council carelessness and callousness spills over into outright maladministration and incompetence.
The Ombudsman’s report states: “Ms X also complains a social worker’s assessment of her son in 2018 wrongly includes information about another person who is unrelated to her or her son.” Those are our italics.
According to the Ombudsman’s report, the council had “identified a Mr Z as a significant family member or related person, and gave his date of birth and address”.This had been on the child’s file since 2013.
“Ms X complained to the Council as she did not know who Mr Z was or why his details were linked to Y’s file… The Council apologised for this error and confirmed it had amended its records to accurately reflect the family links. The incorrect data had been removed, and information about Y’s brother had been corrected.
“The council’s failure to notify and consult Ms X in relation to changes to Y’s EHC plan amounts to fault,” the Ombudsman reports. “The council’s inclusion of an unrelated third party’s details in Y’s records also amounts to fault.”
It gets worse.
When the Ombudsman was investigating this complaint, Croydon Council’s SEND team sent them the relevant file and paperwork. The business about including details of a third party – someone who the council said was the child’s father, but who the child’s mother had never heard of – had still not been corrected.
How is the council reprimanded? How are the child and their family compensated?
“I consider the council’s apology for original error to be an appropriate response, but it is disappointing the council has not corrected the error,” said the Ombudsman.
“These faults have not caused Ms X a significant injustice,” according to the Ombudsman.
And that was that.
The council is allowed to carry on, as if nothing ever happened.
Trebles all-round at Fisher’s Folly. They’ve got away with it again.
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