London Borough of Hounslow (20 011 430)

Category : Other Categories > Councillor conduct and standards

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 26 Mar 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: We will not investigate Mr X’s complaint about the Council’s response to a code of conduct complaint he made against a councillor. This is because there is not enough evidence of fault to warrant an investigation.

The complaint

  1. Mr X complained to the Council about a councillor who he says failed to declare a conflict of interest. Mr X is unhappy the Council has not taken action against the councillor.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. 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’. We provide a free service, but must use public money carefully. We may decide not to start or continue with an investigation if we believe it is unlikely we would find fault. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)
  2. 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)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I considered Mr X’s complaint to the Ombudsman and the information he provided. I gave Mr X the opportunity to comment on a draft statement before reaching a final decision on his complaint.

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What I found

  1. Mr X complained to the Council about a councillor’s involvement in approving Experimental Traffic Orders during the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the traffic orders made changes to the road layout close to Mr X’s home. Mr X said the councillor was a member of the ‘London Cycling Campaign’ (LCC) and this meant there was a conflict of interest. Mr X said the councillor should have disclosed his membership of LCC. He said the councillor should not have been involved in the decision which affected the road layout close to Mr X’s home.
  2. The Council’s Monitoring Officer responded to Mr X’s complaint. Their response said:
    • They had considered Mr X’s complaint in consultation with the Independent Person.
    • They had consulted the Chair of the Standards Committee.
    • The councillor involved said they did not mention their membership of LCC as it was well known and “it was entirely without relevance”.
    • Under the Localism Act and the Council’s Code of Conduct, councillors should not take part in decision making when they have a pecuniary interest. These are defined in legislation and being a member of the London Cycling Campaign is not a pecuniary interest.
    • There had been no breach of the code of conduct and so the Council would not be taking any action.
  3. The Ombudsman does not offer a right of appeal against a council’s decision on complaints about the conduct of members. But we can consider if there was fault in the way a council considered a complaint.
  4. In this case, I have not seen any evidence of fault in how the Council considered Mr X’s complaint. It followed the process set out in its procedure for dealing with complaints about councillors. It has explained its decision to Mr X. I consider the Monitoring Officer’s response to Mr X to provide a reasoned explanation of the decision reached. Without evidence of fault in the process the Council followed we have no powers to question the merits of the decision reached.
  5. In his complaint to the Ombudsman Mr X referred to similar concerns about two other councillors. If Mr X believes these councillors have a conflict of interest, then he will need to complain to the Council.

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Final decision

  1. We will not investigate Mr X’s complaint. This is because there is not enough evidence of fault by the Council.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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