50s women pensions: Flaws in the Parliamentary Ombudsman’s preliminary maladministration report ?

Last week I had sight of the Parliamentary Ombudsman confidential preliminary report into whether there was maladministration in informing some four million women that their pensions would have to wait another six years before they got their penswion.

The report found that there was – but only from 2005. The report exonerated the Department for Work and Pensions for its handling of everything from 1995 – when the Pensions Act was passed – to 2004.

Its official words were: ” Between 1995 and 2004, accurate information about changes to State Pensions Age was publicly available in leaflets, through DWP’s agencies and on its website. What the DWP did reflects expectations set out in the Civil Service Code, the DWP Policy Statement, the Pension Services Customer Services Charter and the Benefit Agency Customer Charter”.

I thought I would check their findings against the release of hitherto secret documents from the DWP following the court case brought by BackTo60 which I obtained when the case was over.

The Ombudsman’s report says it applied the same standard to events that happened before 2005 and after 2005 – when internal documents showed the ministry did have tougher standards for the delivery and supply of information for benefits and pensions from 2006 which strengthened the Ombudsman’s hand.

What surprised me therefore was the lack of weight in the Ombudsman’s report placed on a key document in February 1997 -just months before the general election that saw Tony Blair’s landslide victory.

It read: “Ministers have seen your submission of 20 January seeking agreement to run an advertising campaign aimed at informing/reminding women of the change in state pensions age following the Pensions Act 1995.

“Ministers do not see a pressing need at this stage to run such a campaign but would be prepared to re-consider at a later date.”

Lack of curiosity

There seems to be a remarkable lack of curiosity by the Ombudsman about this. For a start the internal document shows it went right up to Peter Lilley, then Secretary of State, which is the highest level in the ministry. Secondly they don’t ask what sparked civil servants to seek such action.

Perhaps it might be because the the DWP devoted just two sentences in an appendix to the legislation to any thought of communicating the change to millions of people. They decided to leave it in the hope that employers might voluntarily tell their staff. Why should they, surely it is the government’s job? The DWP anyway insisted in the court case they had no obligation to tell anybody.

The second point is that the Ombudsman is right to mention that leaflets were printed, there was some advertising and were distributed in benefit offices and citizen advice bureaux. What they don’t say is the quantity. Internal documents show the DWP spent just £80,000 printing 47,000 leaflets to inform the 3.8 million women affected. How pathetic is that for a communications policy?

Priority given to independent financial advisers

Priority was given to informing independent financial advisers, representing the wealthiest pensioners, who received personalised letters. For some reason, this letter appeared to be missing from the 1,600 pages of documents submitted by the DWP as part of the judicial review.

Yes some £6.5 million was spent by Alistair Darling, the Labour social security secretary in 2001 on advertising -including the notorious talking dogs advert – but ministers at the time tell me the emphasis was then on getting people to take out a second workplace pension to supplement the state pension not on the impending rise in the pension age for women.

So it seems curious for me that the Ombudsman has let off the ministry for this period while coming down strongly against them after 2005 when people had little time left to plan to alter their retirement plans. The evidence that millions of people didn’t know as the internal documents reveal is shaming for the DWP, as is the slow way they reacted to the facts. Indeed, ironically it was only because civil servants feared someone would complain to the Ombudsman that they thought they must cover their backs.

Flaw in the process

My other thought about the report is the process. Normally the Ombudsman might be dealing with one family or a small group of people in handling a maladministration case. In this instance they are asking six people to respond to their report on behalf of four million people. It puts a huge burden on those six people to have the knowledge and time to respond to get this right. I don’t know who they are but I am not sure in this case this is entirely the right process – since they can’t share the findings with other people or get advice.

This is one reason once I discovered the report had been circulated rather more widely than the six – including with the DWP and MPs – that I thought, on public interest grounds, it ought to be more widely known.

Revised All Party Pension Inequality Group for Women to act as bridge to get justice

The new Parliament has seen a complete revamp of the all party group tackling the long standing festering issue of pension inequality for millions of women caused by the mishandling of the rise in the women’s pension age.

Out go Carolyn Harris, the former chair and Labour MP for Swansea, East and co chair Tim Loughton, Conservative MP for East Worthing and Shoreham.

In come Andrew Gwynne, Labour MP for Denton and Reddish as the new chair and Peter Aldous, Conservative MP for Waveney as co chair.

The good news is that the change means a fresh start and a move to a more inclusive approach taking in the views of all the different women’s organisations that represent those born in the 1950s who were faced with a wait for up to six years to get their pension. Unfortunately under his predecessor Carolyn Harris this was not always the case and it was a never completely clear what this group of MPs wanted in compensation for the millions of women affected by the change.

Andrew Gwynne summed up the change succinctly.

“The APPG on State Pension Inequality exists to keep the issue of the 1950s women’s pension injustice alive.

“As new Chairs, Peter Aldous and I are informally taking evidence from all the 1950s women’s groups to get as much information as possible. We also await the Ombudsman’s report.[This is the report on maladministration]

“We recently had a good meeting with BackTo60 who are providing information to us about CEDAW and whether there is a parliamentary route on the issue.”

I gather that as well as Waspi and Waspi 2018 they have asked Joanne Welch, who ran BackTo60, to address a full meeting of the committee.

welcome news

This is particularly welcome news as for years we had a ridiculous position of a major court case seeking a judicial review of the government’s handling of the issue running alongside complaints to the Parliamentary Ombudsman – with the former being ignored by this committee. The first dealt with the past inequalities that were enshrined by the legislation, the second with whether the Department for Work and Pensions was guilty of maladministration in handling it.

The first ultimately failed but the fact that it took place at all is due to a ruling by Mrs Justice Lang – a remarkably independent woman judge – who decided that it couldn’t have possibly been known in 1995 that the new act would cause such present hardship to a group of women born in the 1950s. She incidentally took an equally controversial decision to save at the eleventh hour from destruction Brandon Station on the Suffolk/ Norfolk border designed by the architect who supervised the stone carvings in the Houses of Parliament. See my blog here.

The great news is that MPs will now look at all proposals from full restitution to compensation, take account of what the Parliamentary Ombudsman finally says, and be able to present their views to ministers who have been extremely reluctant to award any money at all to the 50s women.

CEDAW People’s Tribunal

They have also acknowledged the link to CEDAW – the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Discrimination Against Women, ratified by Margaret Thatcher in 1986.

With a CEDAW People’s Tribunal due to be held from June 21 in London with the backing of lawyers from Garden Court Chambers – it also very likely that the plight of the 50swomen will form part of wide ranging submissions covering violence to women, unequal pay and job discrimination.

The other members of the committee are: Philippa Whitford, SNP MP for Central Ayrshire; Liz Saville Roberts, Plaid Cymru MP for Dwyfor Meirionnydd; Ruth Cadbury, Labour MP for Brentford and Isleworth; Jason McCartney, Conservative MP for Colne Valley; and Gavin Newlands ,SNP MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire North.

Exclusive: Parliamentary Ombudsman proposes to say maladministration by DWP over the rise in the women’s pension age

Sir Robert Behrens – provisional ruling

Provisional findings point to some compensation likely to be paid to women born in the 1950s and 1960s

A confidential letter seen by this website shows the Parliamentary Ombudsman, Sir Robert Behrens, has managed to both exonerate and damn the Department for Work and Pensions for its handling of the administration of the rise in the pension age for millions of women born in the 1950s and 1960s,

The letter contains the provisional findings of an investigation which has taken years to undertake by his office – also wrongly temporarily halted because of a court case brought by Back To 60 seeking full restitution of the hundreds of millions lost by pensioners on grounds of inequality not maladministration.

The ministry is exonerated for all the work it did between 1995 and 2004 – from the passing of the 1995,Pensions Act.

DWP exonerated for first nine years of the announced change

The relevant paragraph reads: ” Between 1995 and 2004, accurate information about changes to State Pensions Age was publicly available in leaflets, through DWP’s agencies and on its website. What the DWP did reflects expectations set out in the Civil Service Code, the DWP Policy Statement, the Pension Services Customer Services Charter and the Benefit Agency Customer Charter”.

But the provisional report go on to make findings of maladministration for the department’s handling of events from 2005 to 2007 when it belatedly found out through internal research that people still did not know about the change and needed targeted information.

The report reveals that at the time the ministry had a sufficient database to have issued targeted information to people who were affected by 2005. But the huge delay in sending out letters meant in the worse case scenario many women did not get an official letter until 14 years after the event. The letter quotes Paul Lewis, a financial campaigning journalist, saying on average women born in the 1950s did not get a letter until one year and four months before they turned 60.

DWP ” did not get it right “

It says: ” We think DWP’s decision making following the 2003/04 research failed to give due weight to relevant considerations, including what research showed about the need for ” appropriately targeted” information, what was known about the need for individually tailored information, or how likely it was doing the same thing would achieve different results. It failed to make a reasonable decision about next steps. In Augusts 2005 DWP did not ” get it right”. And its failure to use feedback to improve service delivery meant it did not seek continuous improvement. Our provisional view is that it was maladministration.”

” We think DWP then failed to act promptly on its 2006 proposal to write directly to affected women, or to give due weight to how much time had already been lost.. It did not get it right because it did not meet the requirements of the Civil Service Code and it did not take all relevant considerations into account. And it failed again to use feedback to improve service delivery and seek continuous improvement.. Our provisional view is that was also maladministration.”

” We think maladministration led to a delay in DWP writing directly to women about changes in the state pension age. In our view that letters would have been issued around 28 months earlier than they were if the maladministration had not happened.”

This led to women who were not aware of the changes being given less time to make changes to their retirement plans. ” The next stage of our investigation will consider the impact that injustice had.”

The report seems to exonerate Whitehall for the way it handled the pension changes in 2011 with letters going out 18 months after the further change. But because of a huge delay in sending out letters to the women affected by the changes in 1995 many did not know until just before they thought they were going to retire.

Why author Andrew Lownie’s fight to stop the Cabinet Office keeping secret Lord Mountbatten’s diaries must be supported

Lord Mountbatten: Pic credit: Allan Warren and Wikipewdia

The Cabinet Office under Michael Gove is getting an appalling reputation for its handling of Freedom of Information requests. It is already facing court action from Open Democracy after being accused of blacklisting journalists making requests and setting up – totally against the spirit of the legislation – a clearing house to handle requests from journalists and advise other departments how to handle them. Under the FOI Act you don’t even have to disclose your own identity to get information – it is a public right.

But now it has plumbed new depths in trying to censor important historic documents years after the death of Lord Mountbatten, one of the country’s most interesting and controversial figures. And it is hoping to make it impossible for the author of his biography, Andrew Lownie, to challenge the Cabinet Office by making it too expensive for him.

The diaries of Lord Mountbatten were purchased by Southampton University for £2.8 million – with £2 million from the taxpayer – as part of a huge archive covering both Lord Mountbatten and Lord Palmerston. The archives is known as the Broadlands archive, named after his famous home.

Andrew Lownie has written an excellent biography, The Mountbattens: Their Lives and Loves, published two years ago. It explores the lives of both Mountbatten and his wife Edwina. It was his research for this book that led him to the Broadlands archives, and he has been attempting to gain access to the diaries and documents from 1935 onwards.

So far using the Freedom of Information Act he has spent four years successfully fighting the Cabinet Office and Southampton University to get the censored part of the diaries released. He has won every step of the way and the Information Commissioner has ordered them to be released.

Cabinet Office employing two QCs at vast expense to fight the disclosure

But now the Cabinet Office and Southampton University are going to a tribunal to stop the release of the diaries and have employed, at vast taxpayer’s expense two QC’s to argue why these documents should not see the public light of day.

Andrew Lownie has launched a crowdfunder appeal to raise £50,000 to defend himself against these two QCs.

 The documents could shed light on the royal family and the independence and partition of India. Lord Mountbatten was the uncle of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, confidant of Edward VIII (Duke of Windsor) and the last Viceroy of India, while Lady Mountbatten had a close relationship with the Indian leader Jawaharlal Nehru.

The Guardian took up the issue and suddenly the Cabinet Office decided to release the diaries up to 1934 but no further. This means that some of the most interesting episodes that also included Lord Mountbatten’s controversial war record in the Navy and the extraordinary coup attempt against Harold Wilson, and possibly his version of the advice he gave to Prince Charles, our future king, when he was a young man, remain secret.

Andrew Lownie deserves enormous support to take on the Cabinet Office which must, rather than Southampton University, be behind this censorship of these documents. They belong to the nation, not Michael Gove or the Royal Family.

Support Andrew Lownie’s appeal

I suggest you get on to his crowdfunder page here and donate if you can. I have also written an earlier review of his book on this blog.

The link is: https://davidhencke.com/2019/11/18/book-review-the-mountbattens-their-lives-and-loves/

CEDAW: Scotland and Wales to implement UN Convention on women’s rights if SNP and Welsh Labour win the election

Nicola Sturgeon SNP L,eader Pic Credit BBC

Ground breaking moves to end all discrimination against women could become law in Scotland and Wales by next year if as predicted, the Scottish National Party and the Welsh Labour Party win Thursday’s devolved Parliamentary elections.

Manifestos for both parties commit them to introducing the CEDAR convention into Scottish and Welsh law and the Scottish Tory leader, Douglas Ross, has also given his support to write the convention into Scottish law.

The decision will have far reaching effects on the equality and rights of women and put huge pressure on Boris Johnson, the Tory leader, and Liz Truss, who is also equalities minister, to have to follow them or face a postcode lottery on women’s rights across the UK. It will also be an enormous boost to the planned People’s Tribunal on CEDAW to be held later in London.

The issue has not made the headlines because it has been overshadowed by the row over Scottish independence and the funding of Boris Johnson’s flat which have dominated the news. But it has implications for equal pay, violence against women, job discrimination and could resurrect unfair treatment over the raising of the pension age again.

Far reaching proposals

The Scottish proposals are the most far reaching. Not only do they want to end all discrimination against women but they also want to implement three other UN Conventions which have not been put into law by the British government.

These cover: The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Scotland has already passed laws to implement the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child into domestic law

. This has infuriated Boris Johnson and he is going to the Supreme Court to stop Scotland implementing it -saying it is beyond Holyrood’s powers.

But he can’t do anything about the CEDAR convention because Margaret Thatcher signed and ratified the convention in 1986. Unless he decides the UK will leave the convention which would create a storm.

Fraser Meechan from the Scottish Government’s Equality and Human Rights division, said in a letter to Ann Fenner, communications leader to CEDAW tribunal ; “The intention, dependent on the election outcome, is to introduce the proposed Bill in the next Parliamentary session. A multi-treaty human rights Bill of this nature is innovative and ambitious. Therefore, careful thought and extensive engagement will be required, both during its development and throughout implementation, to ensure it is done right.”

A task force is already working on the details of the legislation.

Wales for CEDAW

The Welsh manifesto commitment means the Wales will follow on CEDAR.

The move has caused the Government Equalities Office in London to start meetings with women’s groups on what changes they would like to see in England – as they are now aware of the proposals in both Scotland and Wales. This is the first time the Government Equalities Office has had regular meetings on CEDAW beyond the UK commitment to review progress on CEDAW every four years.

So what started as a move to open a debate on women’s rights through the CEDAW People’s Tribunal has now turned into a serious and urgent issue for Whitehall and ministers. The decision by Nicola Sturgeon to do this is a gamechanger that will have repercussions across the whole of the UK.

Gove kicks reform of the Parliamentary Ombudsman service into the long grass

Official portrait of Chloe Smith MP and Cabinet Office minister for the constitution and devolution

Government dumps on Parliamentary Ombudsman as waiting list of cases forecast to rise to 4000

The government has thrown out any proposals to reform the overburdened Parliamentary Ombudsman service until after the next General Election in 2024.

A reply from Chloe Smith, junior Cabinet Office minister, to MPs on the Commons Public Administration Committee on their report into the Parliamentary Ombudsman reveals that reforms far from being delayed a year will not take place until 2025.

She writes:” The Government appreciates the desire of PACAC to modernise Ombudsman standards and agrees that this is an important matter. As outlined by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster[ Michael Gove] in September 2020, the current pressures on the Government and the parliamentary timetable mean the 2016 Bill has not progressed and there are no plans to reform the Ombudsman system up to and including 2023–24. We will nonetheless carefully consider the committee’s findings and any future opportunities.”

The decision to delay any improvements to the service come at a time when there are 2663 cases waiting to be allocated and long delays for people awaiting to hear the result of their cases.

At the same time minutes of a board meeting at the Ombudsman’s office on February 18 and only just published reveals that the waiting list for cases to be allocated is forecast to rise to 4000. This is entirely due to complaInts arising from relatives of Covid 19 victims.

The report said: “It was proposed that, to allow the organisation to focus on complaints raising more serious issues, it would not routinely progress health complaints where the impact of the claimed injustice is relatively limited. This would apply to complaints determined to be at level 1 and level 2 of our Severity of Injustice scale. This is in line with other Ombudsman organisations.”

Relatives of Covid 19 victims not likely to get their complaint investigated

This is bad news for relatives of Covid 19 victims who are already been denied justice by Boris Johnson choosing to delay a Covid-19 public inquiry. It also raises the question how the Ombudsman would know a complaint was a serious problem until he had investigated it.

Sir Rob Behrens Parliamentary Ombudsman

Sir Robert Behrens, Parliamentary Ombudsman, in his reply to the committee suggests he might try and persuade Matt Hancock, the health secretary, to allow some changes to the Ombudsman’s powers in forthcoming legislation to reform the NHS.

He writes: “The forthcoming NHS legislation could also grant PHSO ‘own initiative’ powers to look at an NHS-related issue where someone would struggle to bring a complaint or where there is a fear that complaining to the Ombudsman might bring about personal repercussions in terms of the NHS care received. For example, if someone is a long-term inpatient with learning disabilities, they or their family may be reluctant to complain formally for fear that it would adversely affect that person’s care.
“PHSO would welcome the Committee’s support for including these measures in the legislation that will follow the NHS Integration and Innovation White Paper. We would also welcome similar support for removing the out-dated MP filter and making other improvements in our Parliamentary jurisdiction when appropriate legislative opportunities arise.”

So the Ombudsman is left clutching at straws to get any reform at all. The public are left with a lousy service and the prospect of complaints being dumped because the Ombudsman will not have the resources to cope.

My thanks to a couple of readers for alerting me to the board meeting and the government’s reply. It is nice to know people are keeping an eye on this

The Pensions Regulator: The most unwanted job in the government

Hidden husband and wife conflict of interest revealed for winning candidate

Last week almost unreported MPs on the Commons Work and Pensions Committee approved the appointment of a new chair of the Pensions Regulator. It went to Sarah Smart -already the interim chair.

Nothing particularly newsworthy in that. But the report from MPs went on to disclose the dearth of interest in this important job and expose until now a hitherto hidden serious conflict of interest that affects the entire board of the Pensions Regulator.

The regulation of private pensions in the private sector affects tens of millions of people. As the report says:

Its main responsibilities include:
a) Ensuring that employers put their staff into a pension scheme (known as
automatic enrolment) and pay money into the scheme;
b) Protecting people’s savings in workplace pension schemes;
c) Improving the way that workplace pension schemes are run;
d) Ensuring that employers balance the needs of their pension scheme with growing
their business;
e) Reducing the risk of pension schemes ending up in the Pension Protection Fund,
a statutory fund which protects members of defined benefit pension schemes if
their scheme becomes insolvent.

Pension scams

It also pays a role in keeping an eye on pension scams and firms going bust leaving people without proper pensions. The MPs say they have previously been concerned about its role in some high profile cases involving defined benefit schemes whose sponsoring employer had become insolvent. ” We ourselves have expressed concern this year about
TPR’s capacity—working alongside other regulators—to tackle pension scams effectively.” These cases include tax exile Sir Philip Green’s treatment of the British Home Stores Pension Fund and the British Steel pension fund.

Therefore it is rather shocking to discover that this £75,000 a year part time job for the public face of the Pensions Regulator attracted just eight applicants – and that was after extending the application period. Three were not worth interviewing. Of the remaining five who were interviewed – three were thought to be inappropriate for the job. This left the choice of just two people – Sarah Smart and another.

Indeed so low were the number of applications that the Department for Work and Pensions can’t provide a breakdown of the gender, disability and ethnicity of the applicants – for fear that it will end up disclosing who applied.

Fraser Smart -chief executive of BA Pensions – conflict of interest with his wife’s new appointment Pic credit: Twitter

But worse was to follow. Sarah Smart’s application for the job disclosed that her husband Fraser Smart was chief executive of British Airways Pensions and chair of British Airways Pension Investment Management Ltd – the body responsible for investing the money of thousands of employees of the airline. The BA Pension scheme is one of the bodies Sarah Smart is supposed to supervise- an obvious conflict of interest with her husband as chief executive of a blue chip company pension scheme.

She has promised that her husband will resign his job before September and not take any other job involving managing a pension scheme.

It was then discovered that NONE of the members of the board of The Pensions Regulator have to declare whether their partners or close relatives run company pension schemes – which has forced a review of the code of conduct of the regulator.

Guy Opperman, pensions minister couldn’t even be bothered to meet Sarah Smart before he recommended her for the job Pic credit: Twitter

Ministerial interest in the running of the Pension Regulator is virtually non existent. Guy Opperman, the pensions minister, couldn’t be bothered even to meet the new chair before he appointed her. As the MPs say in their report:

“We were surprised to hear that Mrs Smart had not met the Pensions Minister before being chosen for this role. We urge them to arrange a meeting at the earliest possible opportunity.”

The MPs also fired a warning shot about the conflict of interest: “We are conscious, however, that—given wider economic uncertainty—her spouse’s situation may change. In that event, we would urge TPR, the Pensions Minister and Mrs Smart herself to consider whether she can remain in her role.”

Updated: 2663 reasons why the Parliamentary Ombudsman is not working

Sir Robert Behrens

Earlier this year I reported on a letter sent by Sir Robert Behrens, the Parliamentary Ombudsman, to MPs on the Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee on why he could not implement a three year programme to improve the service for another year.

The letter revealed that Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, had decided not to go ahead with a three year funding plan to make it happen until 2022. As a result the Ombudsman would be expected to concentrate on complaints about Covid19 and would not have the budget to do much about improving the service beyond laying the bare bones of the idea.

I suspected that the service might be overwhelmed and asked for the figures on the number of people on the ” waiting list” to get their complaint heard and the number of cases where people were awaiting a decision. The media office declined to give me the information immediately and converted my press inquiry into a Freedom of Information request to delay it for 20 working days.

Physical queue could stretch from Millbank Tower to Westminster Bridge

We now know why. Figures released under that FOI request reveal that the Ombudsman show that a staggering 2663 people are in a virtual queue to await to be assigned to a caseworker. If everybody physically turned up ( not allowed at the moment due to the pandemic) it would stretch from the Ombudsman’s office at Millbank Tower right along the Embankment to the Houses of Parliament and possibly across Westminster Bridge.

They also released the figures awaiting a result from their complaint. That is 2699. So almost as many people are waiting to get to get a case worker to look into their complaint as the number of people waiting for a result.. That might explain the latest figures from the Ombudsman Office’s own performance standards review which shows that only 51 per cent gave a positive reply to the point “We will give you a final decision on your complaint as soon as we can”. It means 49 per cent weren’t impressed with that claim.

The Ombudsman’s Office have also told me that nowhere in their building is there ” any recorded information confirming that “the public will get worse service this year”. This seems to me more of an act of self denial than a possible statement of fact.

The Ombudsman seem to be relying on two mitigating developments to help them overcome this frankly appalling scenario.

Planned new NHS Complaints Handling Service

They are plans for a new model NHS Complaints Handling Service that will aim to take the pressure off the Ombudsman’s Office by trying to sort out patients’ complaints before they have to go to him. But as the section on this new procedure on the Ombudsman’s website discloses that these are only draft guidance. Participation by health bodies is voluntary and as yet plans for pilot projects have not been finalised. My guess is that probably the best health trusts will pilot it, the worst won’t want to know.

The Parliamentary Ombudsman’s latest controversial senior appointment: Rebecca Hilsenrath

The second move is the appointment of a £80,000 Director of External Affairs, Strategy and Communications to drive through the new strategy and report to Gill Fitzpatrick, chief operating officer. There is a full description on the headhunters website, Hays, of the job. Today ( April 12) the Ombudsman confirmed that the post had been filled by Rebecca Hilsenrath, the former chief executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, who officially resigned last week. Three months ago Ms Hilsenrath was in the centre of a row that she had twice breached lockdown rules by going with her family to her Welsh country cottage. You can read about the allegations and her resignation in two articles I wrote for Byline Times articles here and here. By all accounts this is a very curious and controversial appointment.

Altogether the situation at the Ombudsman’s Office does not present a pretty picture. A cynic might say it is not a priority to put money into watchdog bodies because all it does is highlight problems when things go wrong. And a government that would love to stay in power forever wants to present the idea that the UK has world beating public services and hide anything that might detract from that propaganda.

The Parliamentary Ombudsman File

Here are previous stories on this blog on the issue

https://davidhencke.com/2021/03/20/revealed-the-ombudsmans-much-delayed-justice-train-for-50swomen-lost-pensions/

https://davidhencke.com/2021/02/21/parliamentary-ombudsman-dont-contact-us-well-contact-you/

https://davidhencke.com/2021/02/10/will-your-complaint-get-heard-as-the-government-forces-the-parliamentary-ombudsman-to-curb-its-service/

https://davidhencke.com/2021/01/25/why-the-archaic-parliamentary-and-health-ombudsman-needs-a-modern-make-over/

A toxic indictment of the bungled nuclear decommissioning mess that cost taxpayers millions

Steve Holliday: A damning report Pic Credit: Twitter

Report recommends a root and branch review of the National Decommissioning Authority

You have a right as a citizen to be kept safe from any dangerous pollution from the ageing 12 closed Magnox nuclear reactors and research stations in the UK. You would expect the organisation protecting us to hand out properly thought out contracts to do the job. The failure by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority to organise a £6.6 billion contract to clean up properly cost taxpayers £97.5 million when rival companies who lost out successfully sued the agency forcing them to settle with them.

This month completely unnoticed by the national press Steve Holliday, the former chief executive of the National Grid, published a damning report on how the agency failed to do its job and the failure of its supervising body, the UKGI, to supervise it and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, to keep tabs on what was going on.

So frightened were former senior executives of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority(NDA) of his inquiry report that they rushed to the High Court to try and get a judicial review to stop him ruining their reputations. They failed but delayed the report.

For the record they were John Clarke. the former NDA chief executive; Stephen Henwood, the former chairman; Robert Higgins, the former head of legal services; Mr Graeme Rankin, former head of competition and Mr Sean Balmer, former commercial director, He has spared their blushes by not naming them personally in his report.

Steve Holliday had in his remit the power to recommend disciplinary action against them for their failings. But he chose not to do so instead blaming the culture of isolation in the nuclear industry in general and the running of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority in particular.

NDA failed to keep a grip

In broad terms the NDA failed to keep a grip on what has happening after they awarded the contract to the Texas company Cavendish Fluor Partnerships before it ended up in the courts where it was successfully challenged by rivals Energy Solutions and Bechtel. The original contract was changed so much and cost so much more – latest estimate is up to £8.9 billion that the companies who lost out were able to sue.

So imbued were the senior staff at the NDA with how clever they were in organising procurement contracts that they missed warning signs and worse didn’t inform the NDA board what was really going on until it was too late. The UKGI is revealed to have a conflicting role – both supervising it and sympathetically helping it sort out problems. He rightly suggests that it should be stripped of its day to day supervision.

The report says : “There appears to have been a culture that sought to self-justify, and which was inward looking. In particular: the NDA had a belief in its own skills and intellectual ability, and did not recognise or seriously contemplate that it may have any weaknesses, when contracting and managing external advisers, it had a propensity to limit their role, and did not appear to welcome strong challenge; and it failed to take sufficient steps to bring in people from other industries with different skills and experience, and to learn lessons from them.”

Damning conclusions picked up by a whistleblower

His criticism of the culture of the NDA has been picked up by Alison McDermott, a whistleblower taking the NDA and Sellafield to an employment tribunal, and may be quoted in her case expected later this year. The BBC recently did an exposure on bullying and harassment at Sellafield. The link to the story is here.

He recommends a root and branch review of the NDA by the business ministry- which has now handed the contract back in house – changing its structure and bringing in people from outside the nuclear industry and putting a top flight lawyer on the board.

I am worried that since there was so little publicity about this report whether the ministry will have the incentive to do anything about it. If it doesn’t we could see more waste of taxpayers’ money and we need changes for our safety in cleaning up some of the most toxic sites in the country.

Four years ago Sir Amyas Morse, then comptroller and auditor general , said “The NDA’s fundamental failures in the Magnox contract procurement raise serious questions about its understanding of procurement regulations; its ability to manage large, complex procurements; and why the errors detected by the High Court judgement were not identified earlier.”

We now need the National Audit Office and MPs on the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee to keep an eye on this. He also has wider recommendations for the rest of Whitehall when it hands out big contracts.

Bradwell Nuclear Power Station; Being decommissioned under this contract

Previous Stories https://davidhencke.com/2017/10/26/nuclear-decommissioning-how-whitehall-turned-toxic-waste-into-a-dirty-mess/

https://davidhencke.com/2020/12/11/the-latest-toxic-progress-on-the-great-nuclear-decommissioning-mess/

Updated: The Ombudsman’s much delayed justice train for 50swomen lost pensions

Sir Robert Behrens:Parliamentary Ombudsman

Parliamentary Ombudsman slips out progress report on 50s and 60s born women pensions complaint

It is commonly known in Whitehall that if want to bury bad news, choose an obscure part of your website, make a big announcement and don’t put out a press release .Yesterday I found out Sir Robert Behrens, the Parliamentary Ombudsman, has done just that.

His announcement on the progress of his four year long investigation on maladministration by the Department for Work and Pensions over notifying the women amounts to pretty much a non announcement. Partly this is because he is restricted by an Ombudsman law which urgently needs updating, Partly it is his own fault that he has made so little progress.

I suspect that he may have thought it was a good idea to make this announcement because it was clear from the recent report on the Ombudsman by the House of Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Select Committee that people are dissatisfied with his progress. There are conflicting reports that another announcement may be imminent to follow this up.

WASPI Cheltenham statement yesterday

Cheltenham WASPI 19th March

We understand that the Parliamentary & Health Service Ombudsman may make an announcement “imminently”.We expect that this will be the official result of the first stage of their investigation. This will decide whether there was maladministration when we were given inadequate notice of the changes to our State Pension Age.

There are three stages that must be completed before decisions about any compensation can be made:Stage 1: Was there maladministration?Stage 2: If so, did the maladministration lead to injustice?Stage 3: If so, what recommendations should be made to put things right? This could include compensation.It is important to remember that a positive decision on maladministration does not automatically mean that we will get compensation. It is only the first step in the process. Please note that any decision made by the Ombudsman will apply to ALL 1950s women affected by a delay to their State Pension, not just those who have made an official complaint.You can read full details of this process, and how compensation is calculated, here https://www.ombudsman.org.uk/complaints-womens-state…We will let you know as soon as we hear anything further. In the meantime please share this information with anyone you know who’s affected.”

ReplyForward

It will have to be good if it is meant to mollify people he hasn’t done a good job. The announcement is good in explaining to people how an Ombudsman handles an inquiry and why people need to be patient but bad in hiding his own mistakes which have contributed to this delay.

The worst example of this was his decision to pause the investigation in 2017 the moment it became clear that the BackTo60 group, campaigning for the women, were going to the courts for a judicial review on behalf of the 3.8 million women who thought they had been cheated by the decision.

Belatedly yesterday he has now admitted this was false.

“We have reviewed the Court of Appeal’s judgment and it does not affect our investigation. Our investigation is looking at the issues from a different perspective to the courts,” says the announcement.

DWP lawyers argued in court that the ministry had no obligation to tell the women

The announcement suggests that – despite the DWP’s lawyers arguing in the courts that under the 1995 Act the DWP had no obligation in law to tell anyone about the change – that the failure to inform everyone affected properly could have been maladministration. The announcement admits that the first stage of the investigation on this matter is complete and they have a preliminary finding but are not allowed by law – under the 1967 Ombudsman Act – to tell any member of the public about it.

The second clue is that he talks about the second stage – which is discussing any financial remedy for maladministration. This can only happen if the first stage is proved. The advice says there were “complaints that women were given inaccurate information about the number of years of National Insurance contributions they needed to receive a full State Pension. We will be looking at this issue as part of stage two of our investigation. “

  “Our investigation is looking at the issues from a different perspective to the courts,” Parliamentary Ombudsman

What is depressing for the women is what the Ombudsman has ruled out . He won’t investigate full restitution or the payments of ” auto credits” – up to five years of insurance contributions only for men over the age of 60. The auto credits are controversial because originally the government intended to give them to women between 2010 and 2018 when they raised the pension age.

Low compensation

The level of compensation is also likely to be low – the one example he gives is a figure of between £500 and £950. In fact the Ombudsman can order anything from an apology and no compensation to over £10,000 in the most extreme cases.

This will be a drop in the ocean for those who have lost £40,000 or more from this decision.

It looks like any compensation will be for all including women born in the 1960s as well as the 1950s.

The real scandal is how long this will take. Covid 19 has already killed a substantial number of women in this group and bad health, stress and poverty is putting many others at risk. You only have to read the comments from people on my blog to see this.

No idea when he will report

He can’t even give a ball park date when he will report. The more he delays the fewer people will get any compensation because they will be dead. Unlike other inquiries the grim reaper will keep reducing the size of the overall compensation package.

While Covid 19 has left the government with huge bills, the effect of the pandemic since it is more severe on the elderly is reducing the Treasury’s pension bill and killing off those who would have got a pension later.

I wouldn’t suggest that ministers would be so callous to welcome the huge number of deaths among the elderly, but it is certainly saving them a lot of money on pension costs.