Decision : Upheld
Decision date : 01 Jun 2018
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mr C complained about the way the Council considered his complaint about a Councillor’s conduct. I have found fault in the process the Council followed. The Council has agreed to carry out a new investigation into the complaint which will remedy Mr C’s injustice.
- The complainant whom I shall call Mr C, complains that the Council failed to properly investigate his complaint about the conduct of a Council member. He also says that the Council failed to progress his complaint in a timely manner.
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 read the papers submitted by Mr B and spoken to him about the complaint. I have spoken to the Council and considered its comments. I have also considered relevant legislation, policies and guidance.
What I found
- New arrangements came into force from 1 July 2012 under the Localism Act 2011 which paced a duty on ‘relevant authorities’ to have the regulatory role for handling cases about member conduct and standards. It is for the authority to decide the details of its code of conduct and the arrangements for dealing with complaints about member conduct. The code however must be ‘Nolan-based’ and consistent with the principles of selflessness, honesty, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness and leadership.
- In line with the above legislation the Council has its own policy and procedure to investigate code of conduct complaints: “Members Code of Conduct”. The key point in relation to this complaint is that on receipt of the complaint, the chair of the standards committee will consult with members of the committee and the monitoring officer to decide whether there is a breach of conduct or a potential breach of conduct that requires further investigation.
- The Council’s procedure sets out the timescales for responding to complaints about code of conduct. At stage 1 of the process the monitoring officer (MO) will forward the complaint to the relevant council member within three working days, inviting their comments. Within five working days the council member will provide a response to the complaint to the MO. At stage 2 of the process, the chair of the standards committee will consult with members of the standards committee. This should take place within five working days. Following the consultation, within a further five working days, the MO informs the council member and the complainant of its decision.
- Mr C says that a council meeting held on 5 December 2017 he asked a question about air quality and road schemes and a council member (Cllr X) responded by accusing him of “pure fabrication”. Mr C also received a written response to his question the next day in which he says he was “deliberately misquoted”.
- On 6 December 2017 Mr C made a formal code of conduct complaint about Cllr X. He complained that Cllr X falsely accused him of lying in front of thefull council and members of the public.
- The Council responded to Mr C’s complaint on 6 March 2018. It said that it had discussed the complaint with Cllr X and had concluded that he had not breached the code of conduct.
- Mr C complained to the Ombudsman stating he remained dissatisfied with the Council’s investigation into his code of conduct complaint. Mr C said that he wanted his question to be answered and to have a formal public apology at the next full council meeting.
- The Ombudsman’s role in this complaint is to look at whether the Council has properly considered Mr C’s code of conduct complaint, not to reinvestigate the complaint itself.
- When Mr C complained to the Council in December 2016 the Council’s monitoring officer appropriately referred the complaint to the chair of the standards committee. However, in considering the complaint it failed to follow its own procedure as explained in paragraph 6 as it did not consult with members of the committee. In response to our enquiries the Council accepts that this was fault.
- The Council took three months to respond to Mr C’s complaint. This delay was also fault.
- The Council has agreed to carry out a new investigation into Mr C’s complaint in accordance with its Members Code of Conduct.
- There was fault in the way the Council handled Mr C’s complaint. It did not consult with members of the committee in accordance with its procedure. This meant it could not demonstrate it had properly considered Mr C’s complaint. This caused an injustice to Mr C. The Council has agreed to consider the complaint again under correct procedures. I consider this to be a satisfactory remedy for his injustice and I have completed my investigation on this basis.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman