The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: A man complained about the Council’s consultations over the closure of a school. But we do not have grounds to investigate this matter. This is because the Council has now suspended its closure plans, and we are unlikely to achieve a more worthwhile outcome in the circumstances.
- The complainant, who I shall call Mr B, complained about the consultation process the Council followed regarding the proposed closure of the school his son attends. Mr B complained in particular that:
- the Council referred to and followed the wrong statutory guidance during the consultation process;
- the information the Council provided about the proposal was not fair or balanced; and
- a link to on online form for public comments did not work.
PA said that, as a result, the consultation process was confusing, misleading and possibly unlawful. In the circumstances he wanted the Council to withdraw the consultation and apologise to those affected.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- We investigate complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’, which we call ‘fault’. We provide a free service, but must use public money carefully. We do not start an investigation if, for example, we decide:
- there is not enough evidence of fault to justify investigating, or
- further investigation would not lead to a different outcome, or
- we cannot achieve the outcome someone wants. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6))
How I considered this complaint
- I considered the information Mr B provided with his complaint and his comments in response to a draft version of this decision. I also took account of the Ombudsman’s Assessment Code.
- After Mr B submitted his complaint to us, the Council announced that it was suspending its proposal to close the school in question. The Council said it wanted to reconsider the options before deciding the next steps and it confirmed that there would be no immediate decision. Therefore current arrangements for the school would stay in place for September 2021.
- In the circumstances I consider that we would not be justified in using our resources to investigate Mr B’s complaint.
- In particular, I consider that the Council’s recent decision to suspend the closure of the school effectively addresses the main issue in Mr B’s complaint. First, there are now no immediate plans to close the school. Second, if further closure proposals are made in future the Council would have to undertake a fresh consultation process in line with statutory guidance.
- In addition, even if we were to investigate and find fault with the Council regarding its consultations to date, I consider it very unlikely we could justify recommending a better remedy for Mr B’s complaint than the one already provided.
- We will not investigate Mr B’s complaint about the way the Council carried out consultations on proposals to close his son’s school. This is mainly because the Council has now suspended its closure plans, and it is highly unlikely we could achieve a better outcome than that.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman