Diary: And here's the bad news – stories they tried to bury on Budget day

 

A commissioned officer learnt by chance that someone working in the Ministry of Defence had discharged him from the Army when he was 3,500 miles from home, on the front line, in Afghanistan.

The officer had applied for a discharge four months before his tour of duty began. The process is supposed to take 12 months, and at the end of it, the ex-serviceman should receive help in readjusting to civilian life. But somebody decided to cut the process short, with potentially catastrophic results for the officer and his family. Whether it was a simple mistake or an attempt to cut costs is not clear.

The aggrieved officer went to the Service Complaints Commissioner (SCC), but was persuaded to withdraw the complaint on a promise that his case would be sorted out. Instead, things got worse. At the end of a 16-year military career, he was handed a final monthly pay cheque for £11. He had to wait until he had entered civilian life before the Army gave him the resettlement payment to which he was entitled, and then they got it wrong.

After the SCC had stepped in a second time, all was straightened out and the officer received a written apology, ten months after being alarmed to discover that he had been made into an ex-soldier in one of the most dangerous places on earth.

That story is dedicated to the memory of Jo Moore whose political career died 10 years ago last month. She was a political adviser who paid a heavy penalty for sending an email on 11 September 2001 saying: "It is now a very good day to get out anything we want to bury." She was neither the first nor the last to try to bury bad news on a heavy news day, but she is the one who was spectacularly caught out.

Each item in today's Diary consists of information slipped out by the government on Wednesday, Budget day. The officer's story is contained in the annual report of the Service Complaints Commissioner, Susan Atkins. In her preamble, addressed to the Defence Secretary, Philip Hammond, Atkins wrote: "When you took office you spoke of your commitment to rebuilding the Covenant. That is why I am disappointed that I am unable to report to you that the service complaints commission system is working efficiently, effectively or fairly" – which perhaps explains why Wednesday was considered a good day to release her report.

The public workers who help themselves

It was also disclosed that staff in the Department of Health nicked £17,000 worth of kit from their offices during 2011, including 10 laptops worth an average of £790 each, and 32 BlackBerries worth around £146 each. While in the Department for International Development, staff have relieved their employers of 17 laptops with a combined value of more than £5,000 in the past year.

Assessors continue to get it wrong

The multinational healthcare company Atos makes more than £66m a year in the UK, mostly by offering independent advice to the Department for Work and Pensions on whether individual claimants qualify for disability benefit.

Mistakes can have a traumatic impact. Answering a written question on Wednesday, the DWP minister, Chris Grayling, disclosed that the number of instances in which Jobcentre staff reckoned Atos's assessors had got it wrong rose from 900 in May 2010 to 3,100 in May 2011.

The Labour MP Tom Greatrex, who asked the question, remarked: "There is so much bad news about Atos that the Government would need a Budget every day to avoid the glare of publicity on its appalling performance."

A disturbing lack of quality care

The Care Quality Commission has published disturbing findings about an inspection at a care home for 18 to 25-year-olds with learning disabilities in Preston, Lancashire. Inspectors found there was "no evidence" anyone had assessed the residents' needs, "challenging" behaviour by inmates was not effectively dealt with, and they came away unable to say whether inmates were protected from abuse by staff.

SNP keep quiet about climbdown

Meanwhile, in Scotland, having fought so bitterly for so long against the Government's Scotland Bill, the SNP chose Wednesday to climb down. The spirit of Jo Moore lives on both sides of the border.

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