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Friday, 27 June 2008

Norfolk CC Stage 3

I have here set out the developments in my complaint to Norfolk County Council further to my posting here of June 2nd. My original questions are in red, Mr Walton’s responses to those in black, my new responses to those in blue and quotes in green.

Dear Mr. Cox,

Formal Complaint - Second Stage

I am writing further to the letter from Victoria McNeil of 29 May, 2008 in response to yours dated 21 May, 2008. Your complaint has been referred to me by the Departmental Complaints Officer under the Council's procedure.

I am sorry you are unhappy with the response you have received so far to your concerns, so I hope that by dealing with each individual query in your letter of 21 May, 2008, I can address each of your issues in turn. I have used the same numbering as your letter to respond for the sake of clarity.


Hello Mr Walton.
Formal Complaint - Your reply to my 2nd stage letter to NCC’s Head of Law.

Let me begin by quoting my reply to a LINks member in Manchester who asked: ‘where will your complaint get you?’ I replied:

“...but its not about me - its about all the disabled people who are excluded by public body incompetence and disregard of their legal obligations under their Disability Equality Duties.
I think that challenging public bodies when they ride roughshod over the rights of those less able to gain access through their own non-existent resources (physical, psychological, financial or position in society) is important. And I will remind you that 'engaging those hard to reach' is one of the fundaments of PPI. 
Further to that, it is possible that such challenges could remind chief executives of their obligations and if CeOs are obdurate, a decision by the Ombudsman could set precedents.”

For me, your reply to my complaint demonstrates the lack of awareness and/or the absence of commitment to your own Disability Equality Scheme and your own three “Accessibility Matters” documents endemic throughout most of Norfolk County Council’s departments. It is as if the excellent work done by the NNC staff who compiled and authored those policies has just been ‘ticked off’ and consigned to a corporate limbo.

Let me be clear, I have no real desire to take this matter to the Local Authority Ombudsman but so far, it looks as if that is going to be necessary. I have followed your protocol of numbering my responses.


1. “Interim LINks support is by Voluntary Norfolk.” - Voluntary Norfolk?? Who, where, how was this arrived at?
        
1. Voluntary Norfolk was previously known as Norwich and Norfolk Voluntary Services (NVS). Details can be found on their website www.voluntarvnorfolk.org.uk. NVS was the host contractor for the PPIFs and had clearly demonstrated they had the knowledge and experience to host the interim LiNks contract. It was considered that a short term contract for the interim period to Voluntary Norfolk was the most appropriate way of handling the interim period, pending the award of the longer term contract. The interim contract was let on the basis of the Adult Social Services model, and discussed at the Stakeholder meeting in February 2008 (known as the Second Stakeholder meeting) which you attended. I understand that you were not able to attend for the full meeting so you may or may not have been present during this particular item.
1) Fine, I now know this. The point is why wasn’t this information publicly available on 1st April? Norfolk CC was responsible for establishing the arrangements and was given £10,000 to do so. The law says:
“221 Health services and social services: local involvement networks

(1) Each local authority must make contractual arrangements for the purpose of ensuring that there are means by which the activities specified in subsection (2) for the local authority’s area can be carried on in the area.

(2) The activities for a local authority’s area are—

(a) promoting, and supporting, the involvement of people in the commissioning, provision and scrutiny of local care services;

(b) enabling people to monitor for the purposes of their consideration of matters mentioned in subsection (3), and to review for those purposes, the commissioning and provision of local care services;

(c) obtaining the views of people about their needs for, and their experiences of, local care services; and

(d) making—

(i) views such as are mentioned in paragraph (c) known, and

(ii) reports and recommendations about how local care services could or ought to be improved,

to persons responsible for commissioning, providing, managing or scrutinising local care services.

228 Transitional arrangements

(1) When a local authority becomes subject to the duty in section 221(1), it also becomes subject to the following duty.

(2) That duty (“the temporary duty”) is to ensure until the relevant time that there are means by which the activities specified in section 221(2) can be carried on in the local authority’s area.”

2...“The LINks interim group was set up in April…” Who, Where, How?

2. The LINks interim group was established by requesting each PPIF to select a representative to ensure that there continued to be a broad range of expertise across the County included in the interim group. This exercise was undertaken in March 2008 and there was also representation from the Social Care Sector. I have enclosed a copy of the first LiNks newsletter which explains how to join or contact Norfolk LINk. Membership of the core group is now an issue for the LINk and the County Council does not seek to influence these appointments in any way.

2) The intentions of the legislation and all the Parliamentary discussions is clear: it is simply not adequate to just recruit ex PPI Forum members to the interim LINk. Ordinary citizens as well as disabled and hard-to-reach people in widespread rural localities have been effectively excluded by just having two centralised meetings as the sum total of the preparations for LINks. There was also certainly a complete absence of any attempt at any kind of publicity in the area where I live.

LINks Guide Number 7, “Transitional Arrangements for LINks” (NHS Centre for Involvement) says:

“The Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007 makes clear that Local Authorities must make arrangements for LINk activities to take place from 1 April 2008.
In practice this could be achieved by...building on existing community engagement activity. In other words, encouraging local people, community, patient and user organisations to come together and form a core embryonic group of what could eventually become the LINk. Many Local Authorities have already developed ‘getting ready for LINks’ working groups that can be supported to function as a LINk in the interim.”
And
“One of the aims behind LINks is to provide more people with the chance to shape local care services. Clearly, people who have been involved in Forums will be well placed to contribute to the setting up of LINks, but LINks are to be formed of a much wider base.” (my emboldening)

The Norfolk LINks newsletter was delivered electronically to me on the 3rd June 2008. My contention is that it was Norfolk County Council’s duty under the preparatory arrangements to inform its citizens of the interim LINks details on 1st April 2008. And I had specifically requested that information before 1st April!

3. “There are a useful number of experienced ex PPIF members on this group…” - Who are they? Which Norfolk communities do they represent? Is there a representative of my own local community?

3. The leaflet referred to in paragraph 2 above sets out the membership of the core group and also provides other information as to key activities, working group information and "whos who". I am afraid I am not aware as to which geographical communities the core group members "represent" if that is the question you are seeking to ask here. However each representative was selected by the PPIF and cover the County based on the previous PPIF distribution. I would like to make it very clear that the selection of members of the core group was not a decision taken by the County Council, they are a group of individuals selected by the previous PPIFs. We believed that by using this methodology, the independence of the emerging LINk could be best assured.

3) By “The leaflet referred to in paragraph 2” I assume you mean the newsletter. There is no other ‘leaflet’ referred to there. See my paragraph 2 response.
If you read the legislation and the guidelines it is reasonable clear that it is NCC’s duty to know “which geographical communities the core group members "represent"”

The legislation and the guidelines also make it clear that although is is sensible to have representation from ex PPI Forum members, “LINks are to be formed of a much wider base.

4. “...they have already set up sub-committees…” - How are these committees made up? Why haven’t Norfolk people had information about these sub-committees and how to feed into them?

4. Information on Sub-Committees is contained within the first LINk newsletter which clearly explains the remit and role of the Sub-Committees (or Working Groups). This newsletter letter was, as far as I understand, the first LINk newsletter in the Country to be published and you will note from page 2 that it states "this core group needs more representatives from social care groups (especially those who have business or project management skills) so please do contact us if you would like to be part of Norfolk LINk". On page 3, it states "if you would like to join any of the working groups or the core group, please contact us to discuss the possibility" on
Page 4 it states, "you can join the LINk by ". I do not see how it could have been any more explicit in encouraging people to become involved in this process.

4) Yes, I have now become involved. But I repeat: The Norfolk LINks newsletter was delivered electronically to me on the 3rd June 2008. My contention is that it was Norfolk County Council’s duty under the preparatory arrangements to inform its citizens of the interim LINks details on 1st April 2008. And I had specifically requested that information before 1st April!
I should have been able to become involved from 1st April this year. By failing to provide the information NCC deprived me of that opportunity.

5. “...as well as working groups to start on crosscutting issues.” - What are these issues? How are the working groups made up? Do they include mental health services in secondary and primary care; the Disability Equality Duty; childhood autism; learning difficulties/disabilities; HIV; etc? Are links with OSC; Community Cohesion developments with District Councils; Local Strategic Partnerships; and Local Area Agreements being developed?

5. Details on Working Groups/Sub-Committees is (sic) contained in the attached newsletter. The Norfolk Health Overview & Scrutiny Committee has been briefed and will receive a further report (it is contained within its work plan). An information note has been provided for the Adult Social Services Review Panel prior to a full briefing in July. Relationships are being developed during the six month interim period with the Local Strategic Partnership (LSP) and Local Area Agreements (LAAs) and Voluntary Norfolk is a key partner in the Local Strategic Partnership, and is leading on a number of LAA targets. Part of the purpose of the transitional period is to build these linkages - for example the LAA has only just been signed off so it would be unrealistic to have a fully fledged relationship between the LAA and the LiNks at this stage.

5) See paragraph 3.

It is clear that the preparatory arrangements for LINks should have encompassed all the activities you mention from your second sentence on. For instance, had Norfolk formed “Core Embryonic Groups” (see above at paragraph 2) there could have been representation on the LAA.

There was plenty of time for this: local authorities were being asked for a named LINks lead by the Department of Health throughout the summer of 2007. Although Norfolk was one of the tardy authorities, we had this information from DH by early September 2007:

“The Norfolk County Council named contact for LINks is Ian Lambert, Head of Democratic Services.”

6. “We are endeavouring to ensure that the Norfolk LINk is independent…” - See 1.1. Are Standards in Public Life (Nolan Rules) being observed?

6. The key principle governing Norfolk County Council's relationship with the LINk is to ensure that existing agencies and authorities do not inappropriately influence the work priorities of the LiNks and in that way to ensure that its independence is safeguarded. With regard to your question on the Nolan principles, you will note that one of the sub-groups is charged with developing the LINk constitution, and clearly the implementation of the Nolan principles in this piece of work will be fundamental. I should again point out that the County Council's role is not to undertake the detailed work involved in this particular area.

6. I was here wondering about NCC’s observance of Nolan Rules rather than the LINk’s. In particular, I have been wondering about commercial vested interests.

7. “...while being as inclusive as possible.” - By treating those disabled people living outside the urban areas of Norfolk as I have been treated? See also 11.1.

7. I am sorry you feel that by the way we have organised the initial processes, you have been excluded. That was most certainly not our intention. Clearly it will never be possible to involve all Stakeholder (sic) at all times and I am pleased that you have been able to attend at least one of the events for Stakeholder (sic). I believe the Council has acted entirely reasonably in attempting to ensure that there were opportunities for as many people to as possible feed in but we equally recognise that we are never going to be in a position to satisfy all parties. The venue for the Stakeholder events was felt to be particularly accessible for people with disabilities in view of the parking facilities available.

7) See my introductory paragraph to this letter.

8. “...the interim core group have now issued their first newsletter,…sent to all who attended the stakeholder meetings.” - Where is it?

8. You should by now have had a copy of the newsletter, however as previously referred to, a copy is enclosed for your information.

8) Once again, I repeat: The Norfolk LINks newsletter was delivered electronically to me on the 3rd June 2008. My contention is that it was Norfolk County Council’s duty under the preparatory arrangements to inform its citizens of the interim LINks details on 1st April 2008. And I had specifically requested that information before 1st April!

9. “I also understand they are looking for additional core group members...you may wish to be considered.” - Indeed, had I been kept informed as requested (as early as last year) I would have wished to be considered. Why didn’t I get any feedback from the stakeholder meeting? Why was I not informed of developments? Could it possibly have been anything to do with my questioning of the procurement process at the stakeholder meeting? See also my last paragraph here.

9. The feedback from the first Stakeholder seminar was given to the second Stakeholder seminar which you attended. The second Stakeholder seminar was designed to assist with the development of the contract and to get feedback from Stakeholder (sic) on how they wish to see the interim arrangements. I understand that you had to leave the second Stakeholder seminar before the end and you will recall the considerable communications we have had with you over your concerns as to the interpretation of the procurement process. I must again state that the procurement process has been strictly in accordance with EU and County Council procurement regulations. It may be that you had certain expectations of being informed that we were not able to meet and if that is the case then I can only apologise.

9) I did make a direct and straightforward request to Mr Hayman for a copy of the host contract but have not yet made a Freedom of Information Act request. My request was in accordance with advice from Ministers, especially in the Standing Committee on Health Inquiry into PPI in early 2007. I am aware however, that some local authorities are refusing this information on the grounds of commercial confidentiality. The National Association of LINks Members is currently pursuing a referral to the Information Commissioner regarding this matter contending the public interest is the outweighing factor here.

10. “The long-term contract…” - The DoH LINks Bulletin No. 6 says: “Procurement processes can often be complex to understand, resource intensive and challenging. In addition, a number of myths associated with procurement have surfaced in some areas, including the view that processes will not be fair. It is important that local authorities work hard to explain the processes clearly.” Other central government guides stress the importance of accountability and transparency, i.e. The DoH Guidance document “Local Involvement Networks Explained.” Following the stakeholder meeting referred to above, I requested a copy of the draft host contract when it had been drawn up. Where is it?

10. For your information, the invitation to tender has already been sent out and tenders are currently being reviewed by the Procurement Team at Norfolk County Council and the interim core group will attend presentations by those who have tendered and assist in the award of the final contract. Once the contract has been finalised it will be a public document and will therefore be available to you.

10) See 9 above.

11. Mr Hayman’s last paragraph: - I had previously explained to Mr Hayman that due to my disability I could not a) get to morning meetings; and b) meetings held 20 odd miles away (as the stakeholder meetings were) would not only exclude many disabled people in the county but also those ‘stakeholders’ reliant on welfare benefits. Both the ‘stakeholder meetings’ (the only ones in Norfolk preparatory to LINks) were held in the outskirts of Norwich and in working hours, ensuring an attendance which had to be selective to a substantial degree. An exercise in social exclusion.
The matters above are serious enough. However, in addition, I have a hidden disability within the meaning of the Disability Discrimination Acts (the subject of a successful Employment Tribunal action in 1999). I believe that Norfolk County Council’s failure to provide the information I requested with more than adequate notice and their failure to set accessible venues for LINks meetings caused me detriment by excluding me from the early LINks processes. Further to this I consider Norfolk County Council’s omissions have discriminated against me contrary to disability discrimination law.

11. I have dealt with your comments on your claims to have been excluded from the process earlier in this response. We have consistently attempted to make the process as inclusive as possible in a very short time scale. We have engaged with you on a number of occasions both at Stakeholder meetings and on individual issues such as the procurement process and whilst I regret you were unable to fully attend all the meetings we arranged I do not believe that that in itself is "an exercise in social exclusion". Furthermore, I do not agree with your conclusion that the County Council's omissions have discriminated against you contrary to disability discrimination law.
I hope that I have been able to provide you with the information that you requested but clearly a lot of your issues you have raised are looking back and I think I would like to conclude my response by encouraging you to take advantage of the opportunities that are set out within the enclosed leaflet to become involved and engaged with the LiNks process.

11) I have dealt with your response about exclusion in my introduction to this letter. Engagement with Mr lambert and Mr Hayman was all one way - from me.

The Disability Discrimination Act 2005 says:


“21D Meaning of “discrimination” in section 21B
(1) For the purposes of section 21B, a public authority discriminates against a disabled person if-
(a)for a reason which relates to the disabled person’s disability, it treats him less favourably than it treats or would treat others to whom that reason does not or would not apply; and
(b)it cannot show that the treatment in question is justified under subsection (3), (5) or (7)(c).”


I would contend that NCC’s preparatory arrangements for LINks clearly discriminated against me (and many other disabled people) by reason of 21D (1) (a).
From my point of view, this is now a Stage 3 complaint and I look forward to hearing from you in the near future.

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