Thursday, 6 June 2013

A Very Closed and Secretive Watchdog.

I must say I am getting more concerned that public bodies in Wales are becoming less open, transparent and accountable and my concerns were borne out by the comments of Peter Tyndall the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales who was giving evidence to an Assembly Committee.
"Proposals which would allow the Public Services Ombudsman to bar complainants in highly sensitive cases from taking reports to the press have come under cross-party attack.
Ombudsman Peter Tyndall said he had no power to stop complainants making confidential reports public even when there is a real danger the health of vulnerable people is at stake. 
In an Assembly committee session in April, Mr Tyndall’s legal adviser, Liz Thomas, said they sought powers to extend confidentiality clauses to complainants and third parties so that if someone “disobeys” the instruction, “the ombudsman has the powers to certify it as contempt of court, which exists in relation to, for example, someone who obstructs one of our investigations.” 
I really can't believe that Mr Tyndall is in all seriousness attempting to get powers to prevent complainants from doing what they want with Ombudsman's reports, surely if a report is about a complainant or someone the complainant is representing with their authority then the intellectual rights to that information is owned by the complainant.

I have previously written here of my concerns at how easy authorities can change the Ombudsman's mind regarding Section 16 Public Interest reports. Public authorities make confidential agreements on the way forward so that authority is not subject to the full glare of adverse publicity unless of course the complainant releases that report.

These proposals would make it harder still to get these reports into the public domain and Freedom of Information will be of no help because the Public Services Ombudsman (Wales) Act 2005 in itself is an Orwellian masterpiece, where ALL matters are confidential and the Ombudsman is basically exempt from FOIA which again is a ridiculous state of affairs for a so called 'watchdog.'

The whole rationale of having a watchdog is to drive improvements and there is no guarantee of improvements if cosy arrangements between public authorities and the Ombudsman are held behind closed doors.

There is only one way to drive public service improvements and that is to have an open, transparent and accountable watchdog.

Peter Tyndall's proposals should be rejected by all those who favour open government.

1 comment:

Delyth Jenkins said...

I am absolutely appalled by the Public Services Ombudsman For Wales's request for more powers to keep certain reports secret and to be able to prosecute if the information within certain reports is made public. I felt forced to go to the press with my report (ref no 200600720), which was a report of a complaint I took to the Ombudsman, of abuse of vulnerable adults that Carmarthenshire County Council had failed to deal with. The damning report, published in Sept. 2009, completley vindicated my complaint and was extremely critical of the Council. 4 Years on, there has been no accountability, and I am confident that had I not publicised this, it would have died a natural death long ago.