Decision : Upheld
Decision date : 29 Nov 2018
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mr D complains that the Council failed to investigate his complaint about breaches of the Members’ Code of Conduct by a Councillor. The Ombudsman finds the Council is at fault in that it failed to respond to Mr D’s complaint. It has agreed to do so within one month of this decision.
- Mr D complains that the Council has failed to investigate his complaint about breaches of the Code of Conduct by a Councillor and trustee of a charity.
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)
- 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 have considered all the information provided by Mr D, made enquiries of the Council and considered its comments and the documents it provided.
- I have written to Mr D and the Council with my draft decision and considered their comments.
What I found
- Mr D complained to the Council about a Councillor breaching the Members’ Code of Conduct in November 2017. His concerns related to the Council’s role as trustee of a charity. He says he received an acknowledgement but the Council has failed to provide a substantive response.
- The Council says it has reviewed Mr D’s complaint. It says Mr D brought to its attention the fact that an inaccurate return was sent to the Charity Commissioner in relation to charitable land. The Council investigated and worked with the Charity Commissioner to address the concerns raised. It says that, given the allegations of corruption made by Mr D, it considered it was important to report the findings of the investigation. The report was published and discussed at a meeting of the Cabinet in July 2017. Mr D attended the meeting. In addition, in September 2018 the Council’s solicitor wrote to Mr D enclosing a copy of the report and confirming that, although the Council had made errors in some of the reporting about charitable land, it had worked with the Charity Commission to address the issues identified.
- Local authorities are responsible for upholding the ethical behaviour of their Members and has the power to investigate those Members whose behaviour falls short of the standards expected of them.
- Although not every complaint that falls within the jurisdiction of the standards committee will be referred for investigation or other action, the monitoring officer must decide whether investigation is appropriate. If the officer decides not to refer the complaint for investigation or other action she must give the reasons for this decision and explain any right the complainant may have to ask for the decision to be reviewed. The complainant should be notified of the outcome in writing.
- The Council has provided no evidence that it responded directly to Mr D’s complaint of breaches of the Code of Conduct. This was fault and caused Mr D an injustice because he has been put to time and trouble in pursuing the matter.
- I recommended that the monitoring officer reviews Mr D’s complaint about breaches of the Code of Conduct and writes to him confirming whether the complaint will be referred for investigation or other action and explaining the reasons for her decision. The Council has agreed to implement this remedy within one month of this decision.
- I uphold Mr D’s complaint.
- I have completed my investigation on the basis that the Council has agreed to implement the recommended remedy.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman