Decision : Not upheld
Decision date : 21 May 2018
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mr C complains the Council refused to properly investigate his complaints about alleged breaches of a Parish Council’s Code of Conduct by other Parish Councillors. The Ombudsman has found no evidence of fault by the Council.
- The complainant, whom I shall refer to as Mr C, complains the Council refused to properly investigate his complaints about alleged breaches of a Parish Council’s Code of Conduct by other Parish Councillors.
- Mr C also complained about an alleged breach of the Data Protection Act by the Council copying an email he considered to be confidential to the Parish Council clerk without his consent.in August 2016.
- Mr C’s complaint also referred to the actions of the Parish Council and its Councillors.
What I have investigated
- Mr C complains the Council refused to properly investigate his complaints about alleged breaches of a Parish Council’s Code of Conduct by other Parish Councillors.
- The final section of this statement contains my reason(s) for not investigating the rest of the complaint.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- We investigate complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. In this statement, I have used the word fault to refer to these. We must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint. I refer to this as ‘injustice’. If there has been fault which has caused an injustice, we may suggest a remedy. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26(1) and 26A(1), as amended)
- We cannot question whether a council’s decision is right or wrong simply because the complainant disagrees with it. We must consider whether there was fault in the way the decision was reached. (Local Government Act 1974, section 34(3), as amended)
We cannot investigate late complaints unless we decide there are good reasons. Late complaints are when someone takes more than 12 months to complain to us about something a council has done. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26B and 34D, as amended)
- We normally expect someone to refer the matter to the Information Commissioner if they have a complaint about data protection. However, we may decide to investigate if we think there are good reasons. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)
- We investigate complaints about councils and certain other bodies. We cannot investigate the actions of bodies such as Parish Councils. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 25 and 34A, as amended)
- If we are satisfied with a council’s actions or proposed actions, we can complete our investigation and issue a decision statement. (Local Government Act 1974, section 30(1B) and 34H(i), as amended)
How I considered this complaint
- I read the papers provided by Mr C and discussed the complaint with him. I have considered some information from the Council and provided a copy of this to Mr C after removing third party information. I have explained my draft decision to Mr C and the Council and provided an opportunity for comment. I have considered further comments received from Mr C in reaching my final decision.
What I found
- The Local Government Act 1974 sets out our powers but also imposes restrictions on what we can investigate. Despite the restrictions set out above, the Ombudsman can look at how a council investigates a complaint about a parish councillor acting in their capacity as a councillor. However, the Ombudsman will not investigate the underlying issues that prompted the complaint.
- Mr C is a Parish Councillor. Mr C contacted the District Council during 2016 about the actions of the Parish Council in relation to a procurement matter. The Council wrote to Mr C in August 2016 to confirm it could not provide him with legal advice or investigate the legality of the Parish Council’s actions. During this exchange of correspondence Mr C raised an issue about the Council copying an email he considered to be confidential to the Parish Council clerk without his consent.
- Mr C made a report to the District Council in February 2017 about other Parish Councillors’ conduct. This included concerns about what Mr C considered to be abuse, bullying and harassment by several Parish Councillors of another Councillor. Mr C also referred to issues of financial and general mismanagement; a 2014 failure to provide a response to his Subject Access Request and issues about the appointment to Committees. Mr C sought a full investigation and review of every aspect of the Parish Council by the District Council. The Council also received other reports.
- The Council’s Monitoring Officer responded to Mr C in March and set out the various issues he had raised. The Council explained it did not propose a Code of Conduct investigation based on the information he and others had provided and set out its reasons. The Council assessed most of the concerns as being of a general nature about the administration of the Parish Council. The Council did not consider the information supported a prima facie case of individual Councillors bullying other Councillors or any other breach of the Code of Conduct.
- The Council explained the Parish Council should make efforts to deal with the issues raised and explained the financial issues were for the Parish Council’s auditor, employment issues should be considered by the relevant staffing committee and committee appointments should be made in accordance with Standing Orders. The Council referred to the possibility of training and mediation and explained the Gloucestershire Association of Parish and Town Councils (GAPTC) and the District Council offered such services (at a charge) if the Parish Council resolved to seek them.
- The Council’s Members’ Code of Conduct and Investigation Procedure sets out that if a complainant informs the Monitoring Officer, within 10 working days, they are unhappy with a decision not to investigate, the Monitoring Officer will refer the matter to an Independent Person for review. Mr C did not make such a request.
- Mr C sent a further detailed complaint to the Council in May 2017. Mr C highlighted his continuing concerns about the actions of the Parish Council and referred to issues including: the appointment of a new Clerk; unlawful procedure and practice; failure to publish information or to do so in a timely manner; and failure to provide him with information. The Council responded to Mr C to confirm the matters he raised about the legality of the Parish Council’s action, its administration and practices were not matters for the District Council.
- Based on the evidence provided, I am satisfied the Council properly considered Mr C’s report of alleged breaches of a Parish Council’s Code of Conduct by other Parish Councillors. The Council had enough relevant information to reach its decision not to hold a Code of Conduct investigation. I have seen no evidence of fault in the decision-making process which would allow me to challenge the decision reached.
- I have completed my investigation as I have found no evidence of fault by the Council in the way it dealt with Mr C’s report of alleged breaches of a Parish Council’s Code of Conduct by other Parish Councillors.
Parts of the complaint that I did not investigate
- I have not investigated the part of Mr C’s complaint about the alleged breach of the Data Protection Act. This is because the event complained of took place in August 2016 and Mr C did not complain to the Ombudsman until October 2017. This part of the Mr C’s complaint is therefore caught by the restriction set out at paragraph 8 above and I do not consider there is good reason to accept a late complaint. In addition, the Ombudsman would normally expect someone to refer the matter to the Information Commissioner if they had a complaint about data protection as set out at paragraph 9 above.
- I have not investigated the part of Mr C’s complaint about the actions of the Parish Council and its Councillors. This is because the Ombudsman has no power to do so as set out in paragraph 10 above.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman