Accountability Scotland Newsletter
14th December 2014

A Tale of Two Committees

Our last newsletter told of our petition for SPSO transparency (PE01538) and its approval by the Public Petitions Committee. Their decision was to pass on their recommendations and documentation to both the Government and the Local Government and Regeneration Committee (LG&RC). They recommended that the efficacy of the SPSO be investigated, a matter not actually included in the petition.

The Justice Committee acknowledged receipt of the documentation, but what this means is that the latter is filed, but with little probability of being read by anyone – unless/until we bring it to the attention of the Justice Minister himself.

The LG&RC story is more complicated. Our Chairman, Peter, and I were informed last thing on Friday 5th December that the LG&RC would be considering on 10th December whether to deal with the matter at their meeting on 7th January. This would be their annual meeting at which they put questions to the SPSO, Jim Martin (see below). We were sent the information sent out by the Clerk to the MSP members of the committee. There were two documents, the Agenda and a briefing document. They were not sent our petition, the verbatim report of the Petitions Committee meeting, or even a summary of the Committee’s conclusions and recommendations. The briefing document was less than helpful. It was virtually the same as the briefing document given to the Petitions Committee (prepared by SPICe) and this included a serious misrepresentation of the SPSO Act (2002) that had been sent by the SPSO to a complainant. This misrepresentation is alluded to in Petition PE01538. Moreover, we made it clear in a document we sent to the Petitions Committee in which we criticised the SPICe briefing document. Thus the similar briefing document provided to the LG&RC by the Clerk contained information that the Clerk should have known to be wrong.

Having been given minimal time to react to this appalling situation, Peter and I hastened to spread the word, by emails and phone calls to members of both committees and to other relevant people. We (especially Peter) learnt much of how things work (or not) and who might be helpful to us. Alas, no flies on walls, but watch this space !

Now for the questions submitted to the LG&R committee to be put to the SPSO. The final set is available online at:
http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/S4_LocalGovernmentandRegenerationCommittee/General%20Documents/20141211Letter_to_SPSO.pdf

(Note that our collection on Facebook was just a draft for your comment.)

Few of the questions submitted through me were changed by the Clerk more than trivially (the resulting faulty English not being my fault). 

Question 27. In the following, the italicized part is deleted. "Recently the Welfare Reform Committee questioned Mr. Martin on extending his jurisdiction to include welfare. Kevin Stewart expressed reservations regarding public perceptions of Mr. Martin’s poor performance as SPSO and his already-extensive commitments. Why should the SPSO be chosen to undertake the new functions, new jurisdiction and new skills required?"

Question 16 (“Last year you indicated a new complaints satisfaction survey was being planned, when will that take place and report?”) presumably replaces this:
Given the poor satisfaction rates revealed by the past Craigforth reports, worse than any recorded for other ombudsmen worldwide, why have you not commissioned a more recent survey of complainant satisfaction?

Does anyone know of other questions that were significantly altered?

Richard Burton
Secretary

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