In the interests of transparency, so lacking in Lincolnshire County Council, this is the email reply I sent to Tony McArdle this evening. At close to midnight, on a Friday, which by his logic ought to earn me brownie points even if what I have to say turns out to be complete twaddle. Some – and I’m among them – might consider it unwise of a county council Chief Executive to start complaining about what is written on a personal blog that nobody has directed his staff to or asked them to read. Some might consider it an attempt to deflect attention from the real issue. Some might consider it just plain bizarre. Jon thinks I should write an article for the local press warning people to be careful what they say in case the council is snooping on them and using their words to try and make them appear unreasonable in any complaint. What an evil thought 😉
Thank you for your response to my recent letter. I would like to place on record the following points:
1. My complaint was never about “the legality of the council’s actions in writing to you requesting information about your daughter’s home education” – for a start, the council did not write to me requesting information, it wrote to me announcing a policy. As I’m sure you realise, my complaint is about the ultra vires monitoring policy itself, and I do not appreciate this attempt to trivialise the matter.
2. You state that my letter “complains that, by asking you to deal with the council in accordance with our complaints policy, that the council was obstructing your complaint.”
Please note that the only information I had about the council’s complaints policy is what is stated on the council’s website here: http://www.lincolnshire.gov.uk/local-democracy/compliments-comments-and-complaints/what-happens-next-complaints-policy/ Note that on that page, it states that the next stage after dealing with a Director is for the complainant to contact the CE directly, and that although the CE may *then* task a senior officer to investigate, the CE will respond directly. At no point does it mention that the CE should not be contacted directly, or that a stage 3 complaint will be automatically escalated to someone other than the CE, or that the CE will not respond directly – quite the opposite. With this in mind, it is clear that I sought your email details in order to do as instructed, unaware that you would apparently be following an unpublicised, different complaints procedure.
3. “insisting on a response from me” – an interesting choice of words, and David O’Connor used similar in his email to me yesterday. As pointed out above, that is what your website says will happen, so that is what I requested and expected. I don’t appreciate the insinuation of unreasonableness on my part.
4. In all three of my attempts to to acquire your contact details, I was clear and explicit that I intended to contact you myself, for the above reasons. It was never explained that this was apparently not the correct thing to do, and at no stage whatsoever did I request that the complaint be automatically escalated on my behalf.
5. I note your lack of an apology or explanation for why, after three requests and nearly 20 days, I had still not been given your contact details, although I thank you for your acknowledgment that this was indeed the case.
6. Should it turn out that a member of the legal team be instructed by David O’Connor to oversee this stage 3 complaint, I will have to refer the matter immediately to the LGO. While of course I accept that your legal department must be involved in the process at some stage, in an effort to clarify the legal issues at hand, I will not accept them in an overseeing role, since the complaint legitimately includes concerns about bias from this department.
7. You reprimand me for what you see as disrespectful remarks on my blog. On this, I would make several points:
a) It is a personal blog. I am entitled to express any opinion I choose there, as I’m sure you do in your private life. Nobody from Lincs CC need be subjected to reading it; I have certainly not pointed you to it.
b) I have remained polite in my written contacts with the local authority, even in the face of what I consider to be confrontational and disrespectful remarks.
c) I do not feel that I have been treated respectfully by some council members, particularly with regard to the “guilty until proven innocent” stance from the legal department, and Councillor Williams’ remarks in his email to me. No apologies have been forthcoming.
d) Respect is earned, not given blindly. I’m afraid I do have dwindling respect for the actions of this local authority with regard to home education and its handling of this complaint, and it is hardly surprising that my personal blog will express that, sometimes with sarcasm.
My blog expresses an opinion, just as your letter expresses your opinion, and Lincs CC’s home education policy, in going beyond the law, expresses an evidently biased opinion on home education – the difference being that at least a blog is open and transparent; something which cannot be said for ultra vires policies created behind closed doors.
I will continue to blog the progress of this complaint, not least because it is useful information for other home educators facing similarly ultra vires policies in other local authorities. Indeed, I have blogged a full rebuttal of your letter there as I think it’s important to make people aware of the inaccuracies in it. No doubt that post exhibits my frustration in a way this note does not. Such is the manner of a personal blog versus a piece of formal correspondence. Should I at any point state on my blog something which is factually incorrect, Lincs CC is welcome to comment there correcting me. Otherwise, I would respectfully suggest that, should anyone from Lincs CC find my blog distasteful, they stop reading it.
Thank you for your attention in reading this response. I gather from the unpublished complaints procedure and from your letter that you have nothing further to say on the matter, so I do not necessarily expect a reply, should you not wish to make one. I will wait with interest to hear from Mr O’Connor.