Tag: complaints

September 20, 2017 Nick Kempe 2 comments
Just what we want to see in the National Park, hill tracks so broad that people can walk five abreast! One reason why the Loch Lomond National Park Authority is dysfunctional at present is its marketing department appears unaware of the Park’s own policies – hill tracks where they exist should be quadbike width – and produces glossy brochures without reference to its own staff.

The Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Board Meeting on Monday (see here for papers) was far more open than meetings in the past but showed the Board still has a considerable way to go.   The fundamental issue is that most Board Members appear to have little idea of why they are there.  It was telling that under Matters Arising, there was not a single question about where the Board goes now the Scottish Government has rejected its suggestion the Board be reduced in size (see here).  This was an ideal opportunity to continue the discussion from the last Board meeting about the function of Board Members but ostensibly the matter is now being treated as closed.

 

Among the welcome signs of change at Monday’s meeting were:

  • The meeting time was changed to the morning which meant there was no time for the secret pre-meetings which used to take place under previous convener Linda McKay.
  • As a consequence there was more public debate, including on issues where Board Members previously appear to have been gagged.  For example, questions were asked about why plans for the National Park’s properties at Balloch, the Gateway Centre, and Luss Visitor Centre were so far behind schedule.  Even the financial consequences were touched on, both losses and costs, and while Chief Executive Gordon Watson was very reticient in his response, the good thing is more Board Members seem prepared to discuss these issues in the open.  I hope this creates an opportunity for the Board Members representing those local communities to engage with them on what is going on.
  • James Stuart, the new convener, reported to the Board he had spent a lot of time meeting stakeholders, including people who disagreed with what the National Park had been doing, and made it very clear he thought such engagement essential.  He even pointed to Ross MacBeath and myself in the audience and said he had had a constructive meeting with the two of us and Dave Morris on camping!  He reported on a meeting with SNH who were keen to develop far closer working – there has been a stand-off over the last few years where the Park has tried to do things itself without using expertise of SNH, for example on how to engage with recreational users, which contributed to the camping byelaw disaster – and the long delayed meeting with the Cairngorms National Park Authority is now going ahead.   The message was that James Stuart really does want the LLTNPA to work in partnership not isolation.   There was no rush from Board Members volunteering to get involved in this although my view is if the National Park is to change course, other Board Members need to start engaging too and means different people need to take on different roles.

 

While the meeting was conducted in a far more open manner than in the past two local people,  commented on the lack of meaningful discussion.   (Its well worth reading Trevor Scott’s account of the meeting (see here) on the Balloch Responds Facebook Page).  They were amazed when we told them the meeting was a considerable improvement to what used to happen!.    I think though they identified the main problem with the meeting:  the Board was not being asked to take any meaningful decisions and as result the meeting was over in under two hours.

 

This was despite  two very important matters being on the table, the “Your Park” progress report and the National Park Partnership Plan.   The way the reports on these subjects were drafted though suggests that it staff, not the Board, who are at present taking the decisions.

 

The camping plan and camping byelaws

Board Members were not invited to take any decisions about the Your Park plan, instead an update report (see here) was presented:   a  report for Ministers on the first year operation of the byelaws will be brought to the December meeting for approval.    I will analyse in further posts (see here for issues with the data presented in the report) the content of the paper including the Park’s failure to deliver additional campsites and the serious problems with the permit areas (all of which were glossed over)  and here focus on the Board reaction to the paper.

 

The first good news was that Colin Bayes, who chairs the LLTNPA delivery group (of Board Members and senior staff), announced that after meeting Ross MacBeath, Dave Morris and myself he had been out to see most of the permit zones with staff and Board vice-convener Willie Nisbet.  He acknowledged that there were some serious issues and that these are now being addressed. A positive development although it would have been good if staff could have been as open about this in their paper. Its possible that its as a consequence of Colin’s visit that some camping permit areas have now been removed from the booking system.

 

Also positive was Billy Ronald’s question – first time I have heard him speak – asking why anglers cannot buy a camping permit in local shops along with their fishing permit?  The answer from staff was that if the Park allowed paper permits to be issued by local shops, they could not control numbers and as a consequence more people might end up camping in a specific permit area  than Park staff have deemed sustainable.   No Board Member thought to follow this up by questioning the justification for stopping anglers from camping in the places traditionally used for fishing but which are outside the new permit zones or by asking staff how they decide what numbers are sustainable.

 

Most significant though was the statement from former Councillor James Robb,  that the clarification that the Park had “overreached its powers” – his phrase, not mine –   in trying to ban campervans from laybys was useful.   Now the Park has never publicly admitted this although it appears from Cllr Robb’s comment that it has briefed Board Members.   There was no single reference to campervans or the LLTNPA overreaching its powers in the update paper.  Indeed the LLTNPA has refused to clarify with parkswatch whether campervans are still included in the byelaws outside of laybys and if so where (see here).    It appears that the LLTNPA is still trying to cover up the extent of the campervan fiasco, including how they and Scottish Ministers approved camping byelaws which were legally unenforceable.  More importantly, they have not started to grapple with the question of fairness: if there are now no or limited controls on campervans and caravans, what is the justification for continuing with the byelaws?  I would suggest that this is the fundamental question that needs to addressed in the report to Scottish Ministers.

 

Councillor Robb also asked staff members to take him through the process of referrals to the Procurator Fiscal (7 people have now been referred for prosecution).   This was a very good question – one which the Park have refused to answer under Freedom of Information claiming it would interfere with law enforcement – and I was not surprised when staff failed to respond.   Cllr Robb then tried to talk through the process himself and asked whether when a person refuses to apply for a permit when camping in a permit area, they are then issued with a Fixed Penalty Notice?   This was a clanger of immense proportions.   Gordon Watson  had to explain to him there are NO Fixed Penalty Notices (which can only be used for civil offences) under the camping byelaws.   Here was one Board Member who had approved the camping byelaws without apparently appreciating that they would criminalise people (fines of £500 and a criminal record).    After 13 secret meetings to develop the byelaws, I find it staggering that staff had not properly briefed Board Members on this.  This points to the fundamental issue, there has been no-one on the Board with sufficient knowledge and understanding to ask basic questions like “is it really right we criminalise people simply for not being in possession of a camping permit?”.

 

There was evidence that other Board Members still have their heads in the sand.   Petra Biberbach, the convener of the planning and access committee, commented that she thought the data in the update paper was excellent.     Neither she or any other  Board Members thought to ask about what negative feedback there had been to the camping byelaws and what data existed on this?   This is despite it being clear that changes to the permit zones for example have resulted from complaints and public criticism.    Former Councillor and retiring Board Member Bob Ellis went further and said he was very heartened by the report, had only had positive feedback from campers (its good he is speaking to campers but those he has engaged appear to be a completely different subset of campers than those I have talked to), thought the report showed the camping byelaws were a great success and was proud to have been part of it.

 

To be fair to other Board Members, they did not follow this valedictory speech.  I think some of them are beginning to realise that the camping byelaws have been far from a success (no-one dared ask about the numbers of people who ignore the permit system) and that the delivery of proper new camping places is far harder than they ever envisaged.  This was reflected in several comments to the effect that “we are learning all the time”.   The prevailing assumption on the Board though still seems to be that as long as they keep throwing resources into various management measures, eventually they will be able to control all campers and make the byelaws work.  Maybe the new members coming onto the Board will be able to take a more critical look at what has actually been happening.

 

The draft National Park Partnership Plan

The development of the NPPP is well behind schedule, a reflection of the resources which have been devoted to Your Park and the significant number of staff who have left the National Park Authority.  The NPPP paper  presented the responses to the flawed consultation on the plan (see here) without saying how the Park would respond to these but that a revised plan would be presented at the December meeting for approval.

 

Colin Bayes, who is open and on the ball, pointed his finger at the issue when he asked staff what process would be used to decide how all the comments received would be fed into the final plan?  Gordon Watson’s response that the National Park Authority needed to be realistic about what it can achieve avoided the question but to his credit, David McCowan, another Board Member who is willing to be critical (he has consistently raised the Park’s failure to deal with litter) then asked that staff should record a response to every single comment received, including that resources weren’t available to deliver it.  Brilliant!   I think staff had assumed they could decide how to respond to comments without telling anyone.   A little bit of accountability at last.

 

In the main though this was an opportunity missed.  What staff should have done is brought to Board Members key issues for discussion based on the responses that had been received.  The Board could then have given a steer about how the Park should respond.   However, unlike in the Cairngorms National Park Authority, which based the whole of its consultation on its Partnership Plan on big issues it wanted to address, LLTNPA have avoided any mention of issues like the plague.  Instead, the LLTNPA consultation was based on visions and outcomes that were so broad as to be meaningless and which contained almost nothing about what partners would contribute.

 

Extract from consultation responses paper

This extract shows that a significantly higher proportion of organisations supported the draft NPPP than individuals.  In fact most of the critical comments come from individuals.   The reason for this is that the LLTNPA, through the NPPP, is not asking its public sector partners to do anything further than what is already planned.  What a relief given austerity induced budget cuts!   It suits their narrow self-interests to sign up quick and not think about really needs to be done to make this a National Park worthy of the name.   Fundamental challenges, such as how to change the industrial forestry that has wrecked Cowal, are simply avoided.

 

Even so, its noticeable how certain key public sector partners have failed to respond.   Cllr George Freeman lamented the failure of his own Council, many of the community councils and of the community trusts (which are supposed to be a key means of attracting investment to the National Park) to respond.   He was right to do so.  The LLTNPA are supposed to be working with Argyll and Bute Council to tackle litter but there is obviously no strategic liaison about this.    Later on in the meeting we heard that at Luss part of the litter problem is that Argyll and Bute are responsible for the car park, the LLTNPA for the grassy areas around it and Luss Estates for the shop and no-one can agree who is responsible for what.   My jaw dropped, but the reason for this is now fairly clear, Argyll and Bute are simply not engaging:  their new Councillors on the Board should just get stuck in and bang some heads together.

 

Hazel Sorrell, former councillor for West Dunbartonshire whom I have never heard speak at a Board Meeting (in two years), did not take the opportunity to mention the failure of her own Council to respond.  Perhaps she and they preferred not to draw attention to Flamingo Land? (the delivery of the Riverside site development being one of the few concrete actions named in the plan).

 

What these examples illustrate is not just the complete ineffectiveness of councillors on the LLTNPA at present but also that these councillors council potentially have a crucial role in enabling effective joint work between the LLTNPA and Councils.   With five new council members, the Board has a great opportunity to look at how they could improve partnership working with local authorities.

 

The most positive aspect of the NPPP paper was the Appendix with all the consultation responses (453 pages worth).  In the Your Park consultation  the responses were only made public through Freedom of Information and, as far as I am aware, Board Members were never allowed to see what people had actually said.  While at the meeting not a single Board Member referred to these responses – the sheer number are daunting – many of them have some very interesting things to say about where the National Park is going wrong and suggestions for how it could improve which I will cover in future posts.  Board members should be advised to read them and use the feedback to make a NPPP worthy of the name.

February 15, 2017 Nick Kempe 1 comment
Sign in centre of Balmaha (see below). Park Rangers have passed this sign on an almost daily basis for over 10 years but no-one from the LLTNPA ever thought to challenge it

I have now had responses to two of the issues I took up with the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park  after the appearance of Gordon Watson, their Chief Executive, on the Out of Doors programme on National Parks early in the New Year and which I covered in a post at the time (see here).

The first issue, I took up with Gordon Watson directly by email.   Here is my question and the LLTNPA reply, which they have dealt with – as is their way – as an Environmental Information Response:

 

So, in respect to Mr Watson’s claim that “some signs are put up by landowners” it turns out that he had no specific sign in mind and indeed, what’s even more telling, the LLTNPA holds no information about “No” signs put up by landowners.   In other words Mr Watson’s statement was completely made up – it bore no relation at all to the truth.   Funnily enough I could have told Mr Watson of one sign on east Loch Lomond (see above).  I don’t think though that this sign contradicts the general point made by Mark Stephen and Ewan McIlraith, that the first things that hits the visitor on east Loch Lomond are the “No” signs  and most of them are put there by or with the agreement of the National Park Authority – a point Gordon Watson was trying to deny.

 

I took the second issue up with Linda McKay, the LLTNPA convener (the letter is pasted below), because one of the duties of the LLTNPA Board is to hold its Chief Executive to account and that, to my mind, should include ensuring any public statements he makes bears some resemblance to the truth.  His claim that “measures we are taking are purely about heavily used areas” was clearly utter rubbish.

 

Instead of apologising for this – and in the heat of an interview it is very difficult to get your words right – I received COMP 2017-008 Complaint Response reply from the Park’s Governance Manager (who no longer signs her letters so I am unclear if this really was sent by Ms Amanda Aikman or not).   Here is an extract from my response which is now being dealt with as a stage 2 complaint about Mr Watson:

 

“it is completely irrelevant that Mr Watson was not speaking in detail about “levels of usage”.  What he said was that the “measures we are taking are purely about managing heavily used areas”.   “Purely” is a very strong word.  If Mr Watson had said “mainly about” I would have had no complaint but he said “purely” which is not true.  I stated to Linda McKay in my letter that I appreciated words could slip out in interviews and suggested that if the words were not intended, if Mr Watson apologised I would not pursue a complaint.  Since the LLTNPA has chosen to deal with this as a complaint, I can only assume Mr Watson is not prepared to apologise, although I note in your response there is no indication of whether you have actually asked Mr Watson whether he believes his statement was correct or not.      I can therefore only assume that Mr Watson is standing by a statement which is clearly false.”     

 

I have little faith that the LLTNPA will investigate this properly because under their procedures complaints about the Chief Executive are investigated by a fellow Director – in other words someone whom Mr Watson directly line manages.  This is wrong.  There are very few people brave enough to find against their boss.  In my view it should be Board Members who investigate complaints against the National Park Chief Executives as part of their role of holding the post-holder to account.    That will never happen while Linda McKay is convener but needs to change once James Stuart becomes convener in March.

 

Previously where the LLTNPA has failed to uphold my complaints, I have been unable to take them to the Scottish Public Service Ombudsman because in order to do this you need to have suffered a personal injustice or hardship (e.g the public authority has caused you some harm).   What is shocking is that if you complain on matters of principle or governance to the National Park you have no redress.   However, and the point of outlining my complaint in public in this post, is its my reputation as a commentator on National Parks that is now at stake.  The camping byelaws are not purely about heavily managed areas as Mr Watson himself wrote in a paper for the secret Board Briefing session on  16th June 2014  (see here) released after the intervention of the Information Commissioner:

So, if whoever has been allocated to investigate my complaint fails to do so properly and to take account evidence such as this,  I will  take this complaint to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman on the grounds that I have suffered “personal injustice”.      If they still maintain such a complaint is outwith their remit, I think that adds to the case that the law needs to change.  The public need to have some way to hold Chief Executives of Public Authorities to account when their Boards fail to do so.

 

Addendum – email to LLTNPA convener

 

Dear Ms McKay,

You may be aware that Gordon Watson was on the Out of Doors programme on Saturday and while in my view he made a number of misleading statements, one was clearly wrong:

“measures we are taking are purely about heavily used areas”. 

He said this in the first part of the programme in which he was featured (which starts after 7 minutes 53 seconds).

The reason this statement is not true is that:

a) the camping byelaws clearly cover areas which are not “heavily used” .  Data held by the Park’s disproves this including the  maps that were presented to the secret Board Meetings in September and October 2013 (see here) and Ranger records which have been made public as a result of Freedom of Information requests (which show very low numbers of people camping at Loch Arklet for example).   Mr Watson, as Chief Executive, is fully aware of this – as is the Park Board which has clearly stated that the reasons why the byelaws cover some areas is not that they are heavily used but because of anticipated displacement (the justification used for Loch Arklet for example).   He has therefore deliberately misled the public.

b) if the measures the LLTNPA were taking was purely about heavily used areas, the LLTNPNA would not now be building a campsite at Loch Chon, which is inaccessible and currently where very few people camp

c) if the measures the LLTNPA were taking were about heavy use, as Mr Watson’s statement implies, then the Park would be allowing some use to continue.  You are of course doing that in some areas, including the four permits that will be allowed on the lochshore by your own house, but there is not provision for a single permit along the shores of west Loch Lomond (which was not in any case one of the most heavily used areas)  which again shows that the byelaws are not “purely about heavily used areas”.

I am aware that interviews can be difficult and its easy to say things that might not be right and therefore if the National Park is prepared to issue a statement apologising for Mr Watson’s misleading statement that would satisfy me otherwise I would like to pursue this as a formal complaint.  As I have previously stated to you I believe there are serious deficiencies in the Park’s complaints procedure in that complaints against the Chief Executive are investigated by people managed by him which cannot be right and again ask that if you proceed to investigate this as a complaint, rather than issue a public apology,  that this is conducted by Board Members.

Yours Sincerely,

Nick Kempe

 

September 13, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist
Herald readers will be aware that there has been an ongoing correspondence in that paper about the performance of the Scottish Government and there was an interesting letter yesterday which claimed there was NO evidence of poor governance under the SNP.   I was tempted to write and offer what has been going on at Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park as a clear example to the contrary: manipulation of the Your Park consultation responses to make it look more people/organisations supported the byelaws than was the case; mispresentation of Police Scotland statistics on anti-social behaviour (see here);  the secret report into the share trading by former Board Member Owen McKee (see here); falsification of Board Minutes and failure to explain who was responsible for this letter-linda-mckay-151215; failure to follow their own complaints procedure; decisions being taken by secret Board Briefing sessions;  the list could go on (see below).
 
By coincidence  the LLTNPA Audit Committee, which is responsible for the governance of the Park Authority, met today – so what does it tell us about how the LLTNPA is responding to this catalogue of failings?
 
First, a positive – in the minute of the meeting under Final Accounts the following appears:  “Standards Commission complaint statement regarding Owen McKee’s resignation added as a footnote to page 1”.  Parkswatchscotland had pointed out that it was quite extraordinary that the draft accounts of the LLTNPA, which include a section on governance, contained nothing on the Owen McKee case, the Board Member and convener of Planning who had traded in Scotgold shares after granting planning permission to the Cononish goldmine.  Mind you, a footnote hardly gives this the prominence this deserves and as I have highlighted in previous posts there are still a number of questions that have not been answered.   The Audit Committee has NEVER considered these or anything else from the Owen McKee case.
 
The first main paper is an audit plan for the next three years.  For this year it includes Attendance Management, ICT General Review, Business Continuity /Resilience, Employee Licences / Vehicle Checks, Health and Safety,  Control Risk Self-Assessment of General Financial areas.   All very worthy stuff I am sure but they  don’t touch on any of the main governance affecting this National Park.  I set out a list of serious issues I had identified for Audit Scotland in a letter last December letter-to-kevin-boyle151221 after failing to get any response to my letter to the then Ministers responsible for the National Park letter-to-ministers-110121-governance-lltnp-and-proposed-bye-laws.  Audit Scotland told me it was not their role to investigate these complaints (nor would it seem is it anyone else’s as the Scottish Public Ombudsman will not look at general failures in governance) but they would consider them for future audits.   There is no sign of any of the issues I highlighted in the three year audit plan:   secret operation of the Board, lack of information about who has authority to take decisions (the 5 Lochs Visitor Management Plan now appears to have been abandoned), failure of the Park to follow its complaints procedures, collection and analysis of data and project management.     The only things I can see that might be of interest to the public are two audits scheduled for next year, one on Freedom of Information (its a year too late given the LLTNPA have just removed so much public information from their website) and another on Fixed Penalty Notices – that’s the fines the Park have introduced for littering.
 
The final item was the annual report of the Audit Committee to the Board – this one covering March 2015-June 2016 ie 15 months. This presents a rosy picture of the operations of the LLTNPA:
 
The Authority’s accounts for 2014/15 and 2015/16 received a clear, unqualified external auditor’s report and opinion from Audit Scotland, our external auditors.
It is reassuring to see that only   a small number of low priority recommendations have been raised by the internal auditors over the course of the period
 
There is a simple explanation for these conclusions.  The Audit Committee, internal auditors and external auditors have simply failed to look at any of the issues that mattered.  I call that a fundamental failure in governance.
 
Its interesting to note that the Annual Report shows there was a Board level “workshop” in June 2016 looking at risk management.  This almost certainly considered the chances of the camping byelaws failing as this was identified on the Park risk register as the biggest single risk the Park faces over the next year.  Looking at the number of campervans stopping along the main roads through the National Park this summer I would say the camping byelaws are unenforceable and will collapse whether or not there is a mass campaign of civil disobedience.
 
The other big risk to the Park is its failure to deliver enough camping places and I suspect this explains why the Board meeting scheduled for September has now been postponed until October.    The Park clearly does not want the public to know about how its plans to develop new campsites and introduce a camping permit system are going.    There are now only four meetings of the Board each year and a Park Authority that keeps shifting the dates of those meetings,   when we know that secret Board Briefing sessions take place on a monthly basis, is again breaching basic principles of good governance.
May 9, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

The failure of Aileen McLeod to be re-elected to the Scottish Parliament means there will be a new Minister for the Environment in the new Scottish Government.  This post – which is responsible for our National Parks – has existed, under one title or another, since the creation of the Scottish Parliament.     Dr McLeod was the tenth different person to hold the post, the incumbents surviving on average for 18 months.  Hardly time to get your feet under the table and where the appointee has  had little or no background expertise in environmental matters this has left power either with the civil servants or the senior Minister.

 

The contrast between the length of period in office of these junior Ministers and their boss, in the post that is now called the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, is striking.  Just two people, Ross Finnie and Richard Lochhead, have held the senior posts since the creation of the Scottish Parliament.  I hope Nicola Sturgeon will appoint a Minister for the Environment for the long-term, but it has to be the right person – someone who have a vision for the environment.   I was not hopeful, given the lack of any vision in the SNP election manifesto, that this could happen but there is now an opportunity because Nicola Sturgeon has identified the environment as an area where the SNP will work with other political parties following the election.

 

Aileen McLeod made a number of disastrous mistakes as Environment Minister some of which have been listed by raptor persecution scotland.   I would add a few in respect of the National Parks:

  • Her failure to stand by access rights or challenge the misinformation propagated by the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority and Forestry Commission Scotland that access rights do not apply to roadside camping
  • Her failure to recognise the key role of recreational organisations in representing the largest group of stakeholders in our National Parks or listen to them
  • Her failure to scrutinise or seek advice on the so-called evidence for the camping byelaws presented by the LLTNPA
  • Her failure to respond to the flooding on Deeside with any vision for how National Parks might help reduce the impact of such catastrophic events  in future through changing land-use from grouse moors to forest
  • Her failure to respond to the latest persecution of raptors in the Cairngorms National Park with any message encouraging the National Park Authorities to use their existing powers to prevent this
  • Her failure to respond to serious failures in governance  in the LLTNPA:
    • Allowing the LLTNPA continuing to meet and make decisions in secret
    • Her silence on the role of the LLTNPA Board in covering up the Owen McKee case
    • Ignoring  letters about serious flaws in the LLTNPA complaints process and the need to  address the absence of further mechanisms for public redress

 

Perhaps Dr McLeod’s greatest failure of all though was to create any space in which to articulate a vision for the future.  She seemed content to restrict her role to one of overseeing our National Parks and, as long as they met targets previously agreed with her civil servants, there really was no need to look too closely at what was going on or what the alternatives might be.  Management not leadership.

I hope the new Minister will be open to discussion on questions such as:

  • Conservation – what role could National Parks play in re-wilding, species introduction programmes and alternative ways of using the land?
  • Recreation – what role could National Parks play in enabling people to experience and learn about the natural environment (particularly those without cars), in green tourism or in inspiring people to keep fit and healthy?
  • Sustainable development  – what role could National Parks play in Land Reform,  shifting jobs from destructive to conservation land-uses, creating better paid jobs in tourism, tackling second homes that are empty for 11 months of the year?

 

A review of our current National Parks and what they have achieved – it does not need to be expensive – should be part of the discussion.

April 20, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

The Standards Commission held its Hearing into Owen McKee, the former Convener of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park’s Planning Committee who had been trading in the shares of the Cononish goldmine,  while I was away last week.  They decided that, had he not resigned from the Park last August, they would have suspended him for a year (Standards Commission decision Owen McKee). 

After the Hearing, the Convener of the panel, Kevin Dunion stated: 

“The Panel emphasises to all Members of Devolved Public Bodies the importance of declaring all relevant interests, financial or non-financial. The declaration of interests (including interests in shares) is a fundamental requirement. The failure to declare such interests removes the opportunity for openness and transparency in a Board Member’s role and denies any member of the public the opportunity to consider whether a Board Member’s interests may or may not influence the decision making process”. Standards Commission press release.

I welcome the decision and Kevin Dunion’s statement.    What is wrong is that the LLTNP Board tried to cover up a matter that the Standards Commission believes is fundamental to sound decision-making and it only came to light as a result of Freedom of Information requests.

Unfortunately, while I reported the whole Board to the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life for breaching the principles that underpin the Code of Conduct, because there is no clause in the current code that requires Board Members to report possible breaches by their colleagues, the Commissioner was unable to take any action:

The allegations against the <other> respondent(s) are in relation to the key principles of integrity, openness, honesty accountability and stewardship, as set out in section 2 of the Code. Paragraph 2.1 of the Code and the Guidance issued by the Standards Commission for Scotland make it clear that section 2 provides a context for and underpins the Code. However contravention of any of the key principles does not in itself constitute a breach of the Code.
In order to constitute a breach, there must be contravention of one or more of sections 3 to 7. As the complainant has not referred me to any of the substantive provisions of the Code I have
concluded that the complaint does not amount to a breach of the Code by the <other> respondent(s).    (See paras  5.27/29 Commissioner’s Report case 1781).

 

The Executive Director of the Standards Commission, Lorna Johnston, has also confirmed this to me in writing:   “You have indicated that you are concerned that there is no obligation on Board Members to report breaches of the Code of Conduct to the CESPL.   I can confirm that, as you have noted, there is no obligation at present under the Code of Conduct for Board Members to do so”.

 

There are therefore serious limitations to the current Code of Conduct as,  however serious the misconduct of a colleague, you are under no obligation to report this to the Commissioner for Ethical Standards.    I believe this is a fundamental weakness in the Code because the people most likely to come across breaches of the Code are other Board Members, as was the case with Owen McKee.   Indeed, many of the cases dealt with by the Commissioner are referred by other Board Members and Councillors, which is a further indication that the failure of any member of the LLTNP Board to do so was part of a deliberate cover-up.

 

The following extracts from the Commissioner’s Report illustrate some of the ethical issues at stake:

    • On Linda McKay, the Park Convener and senior adviser to the Government  “The advice she received confirmed that there was no obligation on the Board to make public any alleged breach of the Code”  (para 4.23).
    • “The third respondent (Lindsay Morrison) denied any breach of the key principles of the Code. He advised that his reason for asking the members not to raise or discuss the conclusions of the investigation was to ensure that, at the meeting of 26 January 2015, they focussed on the matter before them . He was of the view that other matters would not be competent business for that meeting or material to the planning decision. In regard to the allegation that he denied members access to the full report, he advised that the report was available to all members upon request. Finally, it was his view that as the outcome of the investigation required no action to be taken, it did not require to be put to a Board meeting for a decision” (para 4.24).
    • The remaining respondents, with the exception Councillor James Robb, the thirteenth respondent, submitted a collective response in which they all refuted the allegation of breach of the key principles of the Code. They accepted that there is a personal obligation to comply with the Code, but argued that their obligation did not extend to reporting suspected breaches. They denied that some members of the Board encouraged the first respondent to sell his shares in Scotgold. It was accepted that there was some discussion on the matter at the business meeting held on the morning of 8 December 2014, but this did not extend to selling shares (para 4.25)

 

One might ask, how does any of these answers fit with the key principles of integrity, openness, honesty accountability and stewardship that underpin the Code or with the facts that I obtained through FOI and published two weeks ago http://parkswatchscotland.co.uk/2016/04/05/owen-mckee-hearing-standards-commission/ ?   I don’t think they do but recognise that at present the Commissioner for Ethical Standards and Standards Commission are powerless to act in such circumstances.   The new Scottish Government needs to change this by making it a legal duty on Board Members and Councillors to report breaches of the Code of Conduct by their colleagues.

 

 

April 5, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

The Standards Commission has arranged a hearing for Owen McKee, the former Board Member of Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park’s Authority who failed to declare he was trading in shares in the Cononish Goldmine,  at 11.00 am on Tuesday 12th April at the the LLTNPA HQ, Carrochan, Balloch.  I also understand that the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life will publish his findings into three other complaints I made on the same day.   The Hearings are open to the public and I hope that anyone with the time and an interest in the standards of those who are appointed to our Public Authorities will consider attending.

 

The Owen McKee case became public as a result of an FOI request  Letter Gordon Watson 150623 and was covered in the Sunday Herald by Rob Edwards in August  2015 http://www.robedwards.com/2015/08/national-park-under-fire-for-cover-up-of-shares-in-200m-gold-mine.html and led to Mr McKee’s resignation from the Board.   Owen McKee was the former convener of planning on the LLTNPA Board who, after granting planning permission for the Cononish Goldmine started to buy shares in Scotland Ltd, the owners of the mine.  He never declared this as an interest, as he should have done, but  sometime in October 2014 Board staff became aware of his shareholding and he decided to register his interest.  This was discussed at the (secret) Board Business Session on 8th December, as a result of which Owen McKee decided to sell his shares immediately so he did not have to declare them at that afternoon’s Board Meeting.   He found out afterwards the sale had not gone through and resigned as convener of the Park Board because he had not declared his interest at the Board Meeting.   Months later he resigned from the Park Board as a result of the media coverage.

 

While I am pleased the Commissioner for Ethical Standards and Standards Commission have decided there is a case to answer, in my view the far bigger concern than anything Owen McKee did,  and a matter of great public interest, is how the LLTNPA Board responded to what happened.  You can judge for yourself by reading the documents released by the Park under FOI which can be found at the end of this post.   The key ones are marked with * and are also on the Rob Edwards link above.   I was so concerned I submitted a complaint to the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life not just about Owen McKee, which has resulted in the Hearing next week,  but other members of the Board.  The Commissioner for Ethical Standards’ report into those other complaints, which I have not seen, should be published on the day of the Hearing.   I  hope that that will show  that the Commissioner was also concerned about these complaints but that he was limited as to what he could do under the Code of Conduct for Standards in Public Life.   Whatever the case – and I will cover this further when the findings are published – I believe there needs to be a clear legal duty on Board Members to report breaches of the Code of Conduct by their colleagues.  After all, if teachers and other professionals can be held to account for failing to report concerns or suspicions about children, surely those in power such as Board Members or Councillors, should be held to account for not reporting facts about their colleagues?

 

The last report due to be published next week is the findings of the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life into the failure of three Board Members to declare that their properties were located in one of the proposed camping management zone which led to the subsequent fiddling of the Board Minutes.  I gave some of the background in a recent post  http://parkswatchscotland.co.uk/2016/03/23/misuse-legal-advice-lltnpa-reduce-openness/

 

I received a copy of this report almost six months ago and have respected the Commissioner’s request that it should be treated as confidential till published.   I am not clear why the Commissioner decided to delay publication of the findings until the Owen McKee case was finished, but the extra time has allowed me to make a number of representations about the factual accuracy of the report, one of which has led to the report being amended, and to provide further evidence to the Commissioner about why in my view there was an interest that should have been declared.     Once the Report is public I will publish that evidence on Parkswatch so people can judge for themselves and also be commenting on certain unanswered questions that are outside the scope of the Commissioner but which I believe the new Scottish Government will need to address.

 

I will not comment further on the morality or otherwise of this now because I do not want to prejudice the Hearing in any way.

1 – Declaration of Interest

2 – Vice Convenor and Chair of Planning Posts

3 – CEO Selection Panel

4 – Follow up to Board Meeting of 8th December *

5 – Letter of Resignation

6 – Fw Follow up to Board Meeting of 8th Dec

7 – Update *

7a – FW Update

7b – FW Update

7c – FW Update

8 – Report of the Review into the Cononish Goldmine Shareholding* 

9 – Review 9a – FW Review*

10 – Members Code of Conduct

11 – 20141203 Convener Briefing Note – Financial Interests

11 a – Convener Briefing Note Financial Interests* 

 

 

March 20, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

KPMG, one of the big four accountancy firms, have acted as internal auditors for our two National Parks from 2011/12.   Just why public authorities would want to appoint KPMG, who have as auditors failed to pick major failings with banks such as HBOS or the Coop and organisations such as FIFA, is a mystery to me.    KPMG are still at the forefront of the tax avoidance/low tax industry http://www.taxresearch.org.uk/Blog/category/kpmg/ which results in our National Parks, among other public bodies, being underfunded.  It would be nice therefore if the announcement at the December LLTNPA Board Meeting that KPMG’s appointment was being reviewed was a consequence of the  Scottish Government’s stated intention that public procurement should help drive wider social objectives such as equality and fairness.   I expect the outcome of that review will be included in the LLTNPA Audit Committee papers that are due to be published next Thursday http://www.lochlomond-trossachs.org/looking-after/audit-committee-meetings/menu-id-425.html.

 

 

I hope the deliberations at the the LLTNPA  Audit Committee will be informed by the response to a Freedom of Information request I received on Friday  FOI 2016-007 Response.  This, I believe, demonstrates KPMG audits of our National Parks complaints procedures has been both unprofessional and incompetent.  The background to this is that I wrote two letters of complaint to the Convener of the LLTNP, Linda McKay,  about the Park’s former and new Chief Executives misleading statements in the media about the Park’s case for extending camping byelaws.  I suggested to Ms McKay that because the complaints were about the Chief Executive they should be investigated by a Board Member.  This point was ignored and the complaint passed down to the Park’s Legal and Governance Manager to investigate.  I then found out this was in breach of the Park’s own complaints procedure (which I had to obtain through another FOI request) which requires complaints against senior staff to be investigated by a legal Director of the Park.     I appealed against the decision but  the review, undertaken by Jaki Carnegie who was a legal Director of the Park,  simply glossed over the breach of procedure.  Ms Carnegie was directly managed by Gordon Watson, the new Chief Executive,  and it came as little surprise when she decided her boss had done no wrong.

 

 

Nine months later, in December 2015, I found out KPMG had just completed an internal audit of both National Park’s complaints procedures http://www.lochlomond-trossachs.org/images/stories/Looking%20After/PDF/Audit%20Committee/2015/Agenda%20Item%205%20-%20Complaints%20Handling.pdf.  This audit found LLTNPA to be fully compliant with their own complaints procedures.  I knew this was not true so wrote to  Andrew Shaw KPMG complaints audit letter 151214   asking if my complaints had been included in the KPMG audit and raising wider issues about LLTNP’s complaints process.   Andrew Shaw emailed me back to say it was not part of KPMG’s remit to respond to the issues I had raised KPMG response151218.    This raises issues about what then is the purpose of internal audit and why were we paying for this from the public purse?    It prompted me to write to Audit Scotland.

 

 

What the FOI response shows is first that Andrew Shaw then forwarded my letter to LLTNPA  – I believe this was underhand and unprofessional and shows they were far too close to the people they were meant to be auditing.    Second, it shows that my complaint about the two Chief Executives (COMP 2015-001) was included in the KPMG audit and that either they did not do their job and read the file or simply ignored the evidence therein about the breach of the Park’s procedures.   I think therefore that FOI 2016-007 Response shows KPMG are unfit to continue as auditors of the National Parks and that their other internal audit reports should be read with a large degree of scepticism.

 

 

While the FOI Response shows the audit sample was chosen by KPMG, not the Park, the refusal by the Park to answer my question about whether they alerted KPMG to this breach of their own procedures is also significant.     What should have happened of course is that the body being audited should be upfront about issues that are relevant to the audit and should be considered by it.    If the Park has kept quiet about breaches of its own procedures in this case, there can be no confidence that it has not done this in other cases.

 

 

The key issue therefore is how we establish credible audit processes in our National Parks. This means thinking about what audits cover, who does them and how we can ensure the Parks operate openly and transparently.   I believe that audits that simply look at processes are a waste of time and money.  For example, on complaints, what is really important is not so much whether they have been responded to on time but whether the response is fair and how many complainants were satisfied by the response they received.     While the LLTNPA is too small to conduct its own internal audits –  any auditor would inevitably end up trying and failing to scrutinise their own line-managers – there is no reason audits should not be undertaken by staff from other organisations that answer to the Scottish Government.   Above all we need a Park Board and Audit Committee that is self-critical and open to dialogue.  This would help ensure proper scrutiny of reports instead of leaving this to members of the public.