The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mr X complained the Council has wrongly and unfairly determined he is not suitable to undertake contracts with its Transportation Service, causing him financial loss and damaging his reputation. He also complains the process has taken an unnecessarily long period of time and placed himself and his family under undue stress. There is no evidence of fault in the way the Council investigated the allegations against Mr X or in reaching the decision that Mr X is not suitable to undertake Transportation Services contracts.
- The complainant, whom I shall refer to as Mr X complained the Council has wrongly and unfairly determined he is not suitable to undertake contracts with its Transportation Service, causing him financial loss and damaging his reputation. He also complains the process has taken an unnecessarily long period of time and placed himself and his family under undue stress.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- We investigate complaints of injustice caused by ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. I have used the word ‘fault’ to refer to these. 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)
- 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
- considered the complaint and the documents provided by Mr X;
- made enquiries of the Council and considered the comments and documents the Council provided; and
- Mr X and the Council had an opportunity to comment on my draft decision. I considered any comments received before making a final decision.
What I found
Safeguarding Guidance and Procedures
- The Council’s Transportation Services Safeguarding Guidance and Procedures sets out the action the Council will take where it receives a disclosure of information which causes concerns for the safety of the public. It will remove or suspend the individual from undertaking Transportation Services contracts and carry out a risk assessment to assess the individual’s suitability to resume Transportation Services contracts.
- Under this process the Council will invite the individual to a risk assessment meeting with two senior manager. The policy states the purpose of this meeting is
“for the individual to assist the investigation by confirming information on the DBS certificate or disclosure of information or intelligence, their mitigation and for those interviewing to consider the information being shared by the individual and its reliability”
- Officers will gather the necessary information and collate a Safeguarding Risk Assessment and make a recommendation. The final decision on an individual’s suitability is made by the Head of Housing, Transportation and Public Protection. The Council will then write to the individual to confirm the decision.
- The risk assessment process will only assess the individual’s suitability to undertake the Council’s Transportation Services contracts and will not assess that individual’s suitability to work for any company.
What happened here
- Mr X has been a bus and coach driver for many years and had worked for Company Y since 2015. He states that in August 2020 a third party told his employers malicious lies about him, which his employers reported to the Council. The Council began a safeguarding investigation and informed Company Y that Mr X was suspended from undertaking all Council contracted services pending the conclusion of the investigation.
- The safeguarding investigation concluded in March 2021, and the Council then invited Mr X to a risk assessment meeting. Mr X attended the meeting with his father. He states that during this meeting he was told that the allegations against him included that he had some inappropriate photographs that had since gone missing. Mr X states he vehemently denied such pictures had ever existed.
- Mr X told the officers that certain members of his extended family and a former work colleague at Company Y had a vendetta against him following a family dispute. Following the meeting Mr X provided further information and evidence of the abuse and harassment he had received from these people. Mr X also provided the Council with a copy of letter from the Disclosure and Baring Service confirming they had decided not to include him on the children’s or adults’ baring list.
- In late April 2021 the Council wrote to Mr X advising him that following the risk assessment it considered he was not suitable to undertake contracts for the Council. The Council advised Mr X it had concerns over the lack of consistency in some of the information and responses he had given. This led the Council to doubt Mr X’s full openness and raised concerns over his honesty and suitability to undertake the Council’s contract work.
- Mr X appealed the decision and reiterated that the people with a vendetta against him had spread malicious lies. He questioned why the Council would believe other, unnamed people, but not him and was concerned the Council had based its decision on the word of these people with no factual evidence.
- The Council considered Mr X’s appeal and acknowledged there was little independently verifiable information on which to form a judgement and that there were many allegations and counter-allegations. It states the Council checked the information provided by people other than those Mr X had named in relation to the vendetta. The Council was satisfied it had based the decision on information from someone not named in the vendetta and that the information was therefore credible. It states the information provided gave the Council cause to doubt the answers Mr X provided in his interview.
- The Council also noted that Company Y had dismissed Mr X prior to it making a decision on Mr X’s suitability to undertake Council contracts. Company Y’s actions in ending Mr X’s employment were therefore not dependent on the Council’s decision.
- Mr X remains unhappy with the Council’s actions and has asked the Ombudsman to investigate his complaint. In response to my enquires the Council states this was a very challenging case involving a number of parties and allegations and counter allegations of a very serious nature including child safeguarding concerns. The Council states it investigated the allegations against Mr X in line with its Safeguarding Guidance and Procedures and that Mr X was given the opportunity to respond to allegations at the risk assessment meeting. The Council does not agree that the decision is incorrect. It states it was taken based on the information provided to it, including information from Mr X.
- The Council states it has a duty to safeguard the children it transports to and from school and has measures in place to address any concerns. In some circumstances this means it will determine someone is not suitable to undertake contracted services.
- The Council acknowledges the investigation took some time to complete. It states it was not able to proceed with the risk assessment process until the police and safeguarding investigations were complete. The Council has apologised to Mr X for the time taken.
- Mr X’s response to the draft decision reiterates that he is innocent of all allegations against him. He is unhappy the Council has not identified the ‘credible person’ and states the people he believes this could be, have told numerous lies about him. Mr X again questions why the Could has accepted this person’s word against his.
- The Ombudsman does not act as an appeal body. It is not the Ombudsman’s role to decide whether Mr X is suitable to undertake Transportation Services contracts; that is the Council’s job. We can only consider whether the Council investigated the allegations against Mr X correctly. We cannot criticise a council where officers have followed the correct procedures and reached a reasoned decision.
- Mr X disagrees with the Council’s decision that he is not suitable to undertake its contracts, but I am satisfied the Council took account of all of the relevant evidence and followed a proper decision making process. The Council was aware of Mr X’s concerns about a vendetta against him and considered Mr X’s evidence regarding those involved in the vendetta. The Council was concerned about a lack of consistency in Mr X’s information and responses, whilst being satisfied it had received credible information, from an individual not named in the vendetta, on which to reach its decision.
- There is no evidence of fault in the way the Council investigated the allegations against Mr X or in reaching the decision that Mr X is not suitable to undertake Transportation Services contracts.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman