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Public Services Ombudsman Backs Historic Scotland over Auld Fowler's HQ

We were wrong to complain to him, says Ombudsman ...

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. The Public Services Ombudsman has considered the Complaint against Historic Scotland lodged by the Arts Festival and Community Council, and resolved by letter that we have no grounds for Complaint. Historic Scotland [HS] followed their own Rules impeccably. Just as most Westminster MPs did in claiming expenses. So if the community feels, as it overwhelmingly does, that the wrong decision arose from the rules, the rules must be wrong!

Click to enlarge the Ombudsman's determination
N.B. The letter is communicated here for the information of all members of the community in Prestonpans represented by its Community Council, and the members of the Arts Festival, in whose joint names the Complaint was lodged by Gordon Prestoungrange.

And there's the rub. The nation's Ombudsman is unable and unwilling to comment on whether the outcome was fair or just .... simply that the operating rules a former Minister had agreed with HS had been meticulously followed as HS upheld its original decision made as long ago as 1996. "It held the line" as it promised Minister Linda Fabiani it would. Current Minister Michael Russell writing to the community recently said the same. Under the rules as they are HS did as it wished in his name on the nation's behalf.

Change the Rules please!

The campaign must accordingly shift to the rule making process, the operating agreement HS has with Ministers. As currently operating, HS is judge and jury in its own cause calling what witnesses or consultants it cares to, disallowing the applicant any right to seek to present a case to the consultants, and weighing up the comments and observations as HS sees fit. It defines what 'history' means and it sees 1945 as a cut off point for anything much being worthwhile.

HS is of course a quango of whose undemocratic ways much is heard but little done. And the Ombudsman is not going to go there. But the Minister could at any time have intervened. Linda Fabiani had no need to accept the 'decisions' of HS. She could have stepped in and over-ruled them or quite simply as the senior politician involved taken the heat and come to the Pans to tell us why she, not HS, thought we were all wrong. But she used HS as an undemocratic alibi. She probably agreed with them and we trust she studied the case very carefully. She was certainly alerted to the community's strong views - as was Michael Russell later.

It seems that the 'culture' politicians we have been relating with have no clear practical notion of what they mean when they say they wish to give more power back to local communities. Here was a golden opportunity to back our community in its continuing efforts to pick itself up and get running again. They visited the Pans and told us "you're a role model!" But when the chips were down, no action followed. The rhetoric was just that.

So OK, we're a role model of how to get on with it without their help! But we've not given up yet awhile .....

How to change the Rules then?

Currently, following the advice of our local MSP Iain Gray, a Petition is being heard by Holyrood's Petitions Committee. It is empowered, unlike the Ombudsman, to make recommendations to the Minister in the light of the ideas and opinions we have advanced if it believes they have merit. So here's hoping! The next meeting of that Committee takes place in October.

Published Date: August 22nd 2009

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