Lancaster City Council (18 009 721)

Category : Other Categories > Other

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 04 Jan 2019

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mr X complained the Council entered into a disingenuous contract with his company. This issue is outside our jurisdiction as it has been dealt with, or is best dealt with, by the courts. Mr X also complained about the way the Council investigated a complaint about a councillor’s conduct. The Council was entitled to decide the matters raised were legal matters and not for the Councillor to deal with. The Council was not at fault.

The complaint

  1. Mr X complained the Council entered into a disingenuous contract with his company.
  2. He also complained a councillor breeched the code of conduct by ignoring correspondence and council policy in covering up wrong doing and irregularities regarding a planning development. He says the Council’s actions have caused him and his family distress and financial loss.

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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 we cannot achieve the outcome someone wants or if we believe another body is best placed to deal with the matter. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)
  2. 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)
  3. The law says we cannot normally investigate a complaint when someone could take the matter to court. However, we may decide to investigate if we consider it would be unreasonable to expect the person to go to court. (Local Government Act 1974, section 26(6)(c), as amended)
  4. We cannot investigate a complaint about the start of court action or what happened in court. (Local Government Act 1974, Schedule 5/5A, paragraph 1/3, as amended)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I have considered the information supplied by Mr X and have spoken to him on the telephone. I have considered the Council’s responses to Mr X.
  2. I gave Mr X and the Council the opportunity to comment on a draft of this decision. I considered their comments before I reached a final decision.

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What I found

  1. Mr X previously complained to the Ombudsman in 2017. Mr X complained about the Council’s refusal to negotiate with him regarding compensation relating to land and that it had ignored his allegations and evidence of fraud surrounding this.
  2. The complaint related to the Council’s decision to regenerate land Mr X’s company owned. The Council began the compulsory purchase process to secure the land in 2004. Mr X’s company contracted with the other parties involved to carry out some of the development and sought to agree a price for the land and compensation for the disruption caused by this. There followed a series of disputes about the level of compensation, allegations of fraud and a breach of contract. The matter of compensation was considered by the Court of Appeal in 2013 and the Court of Appeal found the allegations of fraud unfounded in 2015. The Lands Tribunal in 2016 considered the matter of a breach of contract would be for the High Court.
  3. In September 2017 the Ombudsman found that the matters Mr X complained about had either been before a court or tribunal or were inextricably linked with those issues and so the complaint was outside our jurisdiction.

What happened

  1. Mr X wrote to Councillor Y in 2014 asking about decisions made by the Council in 2008 relating to the breached/defaulted contract with his company and the failure to pay him disturbance costs related to the compulsory purchase. Councillor Y acknowledged the correspondence and advised the Council’s Chief Executive would respond. The Chief Executive responded in April 2014. Mr X says Councillor Y ignored seven further letters in 2014 and 2016 and five further letters between January and March 2017.
  2. Mr X submitted a member conduct complaint regarding Councillor Y’s failure to respond to his correspondence.
  3. The Council responded to Mr X in May 2017. It advised the matters Mr X contacted Councillor Y about were legal matters for council officers to deal with. So it was not appropriate for Councillor Y to respond. As part of the Council’s consideration, Councillor Y advised the Council’s monitoring officer that he had no information about the matters Mr X complained about and had no relevant knowledge to impart to Mr X. He said he had no involvement in the regeneration project since 2008.
  4. Mr X complained to the Council about this response. Mr X had evidence to show Councillor Y was involved in decisions about the regeneration project in 2009. He raised issues about the Council’s decision making regarding the regeneration project and considered fraud, wrong doing and irregularities were covered up. Mr X requested the Council deal with his complaint about Councillor Y and initiate a pre-action protocol for the regeneration project. The Council noted Mr X’s comments and advised it did not propose to take any further action.

Findings

Complaint about the contract with Mr X’s company

  1. The Ombudsman previously considered Mr X’s complaint about compensation and allegations of fraud. The Ombudsman has already considered these matters and so they cannot be looked at again.
  2. Mr X’s complaint about the contract with his company is outside our jurisdiction. This is because it relates to matters inextricably linked to previous court action. If there are outstanding matters the best place to deal with any dispute about the contract is in the courts. The Ombudsman cannot interpret the terms of a contract. The injustice Mr X claims is substantial and the Ombudsman cannot provide a remedy in the way a court might. In addition, these matters happened too long ago for the Ombudsman to consider them now.

Complaint about Councillor Y’s conduct

  1. The Council considered Mr X’s complaint about Councillor Y and decided the issues Mr X complained about related to legal matters which were for officers to deal with not a councillor. This was a decision the Council was entitled to take and it was not at fault.
  2. Mr X has evidence Councillor Y made an incorrect comment regarding his involvement in the development in 2009. However the matters complained about are not an appropriate use of the standards process. They relate to the Council’s involvement in the regeneration project which is a matter outside of our jurisdiction.

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Final decision

  1. I have discontinued the investigation as there is no fault in the Council’s decision not to investigate further Mr X’s complaint about a councillor’s conduct. Mr X’s complaint about the contract is outside the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction as such matters are best dealt with by the courts and the issues happened too long ago for us to consider them now.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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