The September 2104 News Letter is published below.

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Accountability Scotland Newsletter
7th September 2014

This informal hotch-potch is put together with the thought that members may be wondering what the organization is doing.

Petition PE1449 This was lodged on 29 August 2012 by Accountability Scotland: “Replacement for the Scottish Committee of the Administrative Justice and Tribunals Council”. We submitted a supporting document in May 2013. The Justice Committee will consider this again in late September. We have just submitted another supporting document (in a hurry to meet a deadline). There is at present an interim committee (STAJAC). Our convener, Peter Stewart-Blacker and I had earlier (July 2013) discussed this matter at length with Linda Pollock, head of policy, Tribunals and Administrative Justice Policy and were pleased to find later that our views were being taken seriously.

As you know, it is our view that the most hopeful way of effecting changes through parliament and government is by talking to key individuals, presenting well-researched arguments (as opposed to attacking them and putting them on the defensive). This is our policy as agreed by our committee. A key, and difficult, individual to persuade is David Cullum, Clerk to the LG&R committee; Peter has had frequent discussions with him. He has also had several conversations with John Swinney (who has other things on his mind just now), with John Wilson and Neil Stewart of the Public Petitions Committee and Marieke Dwarshuis, the Chair of STAJAC. Other relevant people include a press association parliamentary correspondent , and the team of the Scottish Human Rights Commission. A problem we have with the press is the difficulty of coming up with dramatic stories that they think would actually sell newspapers. The Scottish Human Rights Commission would have taken up the case of the SPSO’s one-year time bar, but we were short of clear enough examples of it leading to injustice. Does anyone have good evidence?

In March John Hinton [Member] and Richard Burton [Secretary] visited our Patron, Dennis Canavan, and had a long and useful discussion of policy. This was discussed at our last committee meeting.

The SPSO has just published his Annual Report for 2013-4 “Transforming Scotland’s Complaints Culture”. Read without background knowledge, this would probably give an excellent impression of the SPSO. The “transformation” probably refers to the SPSO’s Complaints Handling Procedure (CHP) for the SPSO’s ‘bodies under jurisdiction’ (BUJs or budgies) that was instituted earlier. It is possible now to read the details of this on the SPSO website: it is an excellent document and may well transform complaints handling by BUJs. Whether it can transform all the aspects of Scotland’s complaints culture that Accountability Scotland is especially concerned with is another matter. What about major skulduggery. gagging orders, whistle blowing, lack of structural independence in complaint handling etc?

The latest SPSO newsletter says of it:

”I laid our 2013-14 annual report earlier this month. It highlights the strength of our performance and our impact over the past year. Its title ‘Transforming Scotland’s Complaints Culture’ is a bold one for an annual report. However, I believe it captures a turning point in the approach by public bodies to handling complaints. Through the work that we have led, in partnership with other organisations, people in Scotland now have better access to justice through standardised, accessible, effective complaints procedures. We are beginning to see a culture shift towards public bodies valuing the learning from complaints and using them to drive improvement.”There is work to be done, though, as the report also demonstrates. There are still barriers to complaining, and I recognise the courage and stamina it can take to make a complaint about a public service organisation.”

As you know, Accountability Scotland has various aims and its activities are very much governed by our individual enthusiasms and abilities. There are specific problems to confront, sometimes at local level and involving local councils, the NHS etc. Some of us are focused on reforming the SPSO, or aim to reform administrative justice at its parliamentary apex by influencing those people who have the power to make changes (i.e. going further than the SPSO in ‘Transforming Scotland’s Complaints Culture’). In the latter context we have to know and understand key individuals. Moreover, we must protect our image as a rational and well-informed organization, not giving the likes of Jim Martin the excuse to dismiss us as a bunch of nutters (not his words, of course).

A very different role of Accountability Scotland is supporting individual members and giving opportunities to share experiences and (far from unimportant) to vent frustrations. In general we do not undertake to solve individual problems, but it could well help to set up small local meetings to discuss whatever individuals would like to discuss. Suggestions as to how to set these up would be welcome, but perhaps interested members might achieve this for themselves by making suggestions on our website.
There is a special place for our individual comments on our website, but not much is being posted there at the moment.

Richard Townsend-Rose [Treasurer] has set up a separate website:

This needs more stories of non-accountability from the membership.

Volunteer wanted. It is important for us to keep an eye on what is going on in Parliament that is relevant to us, looking at committee agendas etc, for instance – also to keep half an eye on England too (which is in some ways ahead of Scotland). This would not be an arduous job, but Secretary and Convener are having difficulty keeping up with it. Is anyone willing to do this?

Next AS committee meeting: It seems sensible not to meet until after the referendum. MSPs are unlikely to pay much attention to us while their minds are on their campaigns.

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