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Former Labour politician appointed to investigate anti-Tory bias at Ombudsman’s office

10 Apr 2024 4 minute read
Welsh Conservative Shadow Local Government Minister Sam Rowlands

Martin Shipton

The senior barrister appointed to review allegations of anti-Tory bias in the office of the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales is a former Labour council leader and parliamentary candidate, it has emerged.

Welsh Conservatives have questioned the credibility of the probe launched after Nation.Cymru revealed that the Ombudsman’s chief investigator Sinead Cook had posted a series of prejudicial social media messages including one that read: “F*** the Tories”. Ms Cook subsequently resigned.

Her social media activity led to concerns that biased decisions may have been made about which complaints about councillors should be investigated, with suggestions that some were treated more harshly than others.

On Tuesday the Ombudsman, Michelle Morris, announced that James Goudie KC had been appointed to conduct the review.

Welsh Conservatives have now pointed out that Mr Goudie, 81, has links to the Labour Party going back over 50 years. He stood for the party at a parliamentary election in Brent North in London in 1974 and was the Labour leader of Brent Council from 1977 to 1978. He also co-chairs the human rights sub-group of the Society of Labour Lawyers, which provides legal and policy advice to the party.

Credibility

Sam Rowlands MS, the Welsh Conservatives’ Shadow Minister for Local Government, said: “The appointment of James Goudie KC to lead the review into the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales (PSOW) raises serious doubts about its credibility. The barrister undertaking this investigation is a former Labour council leader, former Labour candidate and a former chair of the Society of Labour lawyers.

“How can we expect a review under these circumstances to have the confidence of the public with such a barrister leading it?”

A spokesperson for PSOW said: “James Goudie KC is an eminent independent barrister, has been called to the Bar since 1970 and took silk in 1984. He has not been politically active for over 45 years.

“During this time he has worked in public law and local government in Wales and England and has worked for councils of all political persuasion, including those which have been led by Conservative, Labour and Independent administrations.”

The spokesperson did not respond to questions over whether Mr Goudie’s links to Labour were known before he was selected to carry out the review.

Legal advice

Nation.Cymru also established that legal advice given by Mr Goldie had been used by Blaenau Gwent council in 2021, at a time when Ms Morris, now the Ombudsman, was the authority’s managing director.

The council was considering, together with other local authorities, launching a community energy investment bond. A report to the authority’s regeneration scrutiny committee stated: “A comprehensive due diligence exercise has been carried out by Association of Public Sector Excellence Energy, EY, Cornwall Insights, Geldards Solicitors and James Goldie QC for West Berkshire Council.”

David TC Davies, the Secretary of State for Wales, said: “Given the severity of this situation, it is paramount that the person tasked with investigating the blatant political bias from a supposedly ‘impartial’ individual is someone entirely independent.

“The apparent link between the appointed individual and the Ombudsman is clearly a conflict of interest and this latest revelation will do nothing to repair the enormous damage that has been caused.

“Again, this reconfirms why people have lost confidence in the Ombudsman’s office and I believe it is now time for it to be wound down and replaced by something truly impartial for the people of Wales.”

A spokeswoman for PSOW said: “The Ombudsman totally refutes this allegation. The report referred to was commissioned by West Berkshire Council not her previous local authority, so any suggestion of any conflict of interest is unfounded. Mr Goudie has not worked with PSOW or the Ombudsman previously and she met him for the first time this week.”

Assurance 

An earlier statement issued by PSOW said: “Following the allegation of political bias, made against a former officer of PSOW, the Ombudsman has announced that an independent review will be conducted to provide assurance that its code of conduct processes are sound, free from political bias and that lessons are learned from what has happened.

“The Ombudsman fully accepts that PSOW now needs to rebuild trust in the work of the organisation on complaints against councillors. The remit will include reviewing discretionary decisions previously made, by the former officer and her team, not to investigate complaints when applying the Ombudsman’s processes.”

The review is expected to report this summer.


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Richard
Richard
1 month ago

I guess if you await arounf long enough the Tories will between U Turns make a valid point
and this seems to be one of them 🏳️

Jeff
Jeff
1 month ago

Fine, suggest someone.

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