Sunday, 8 February 2009

Council officers ignore complaints procedures and conceal complaints from local councillors

Page Contents 
  1. What happened
  2. The evidence the Local Government Ombudsman conceal, and the council maladministration the Local Government Ombudsman condone
What happened

November 2004. Resident notifies Carlisle City Council about breaches of landscape planning conditions, breaches of Planning Agreement (section 106 Agreement), and unauthorised development.

February/March 2005. Resident submits complaints to council about delay in enforcement action. The counil determine the complaints to be prematurely lodged. Head of Planning Services declares an interest in the developer (Story Construction Ltd.), and writes that the complaints would be investigated by a senior officer of the Planning Services Business Unit. No investigation was undertaken.

April 2005. Resident notifies council about breaches of replanting conditions of felling consents and unlawful felling of protected trees (trees subject to a Tree Preservation Order).

August 2005. Resident submits formal complaints to council. The complaints were that council officers failed to take effective enforcement action over unauthorised development, and breaches of landscaping conditions and obligations in the Planning Agreement; failed to uphold a planning condition and obligation requiring a football pitch to be retained and acquired by the council; granted planning permission for housing and gardens, without the delegated authority to do so, on land that was to be transferred to the council as public open space under the provisions of a Planning Agreement; and failed to notify the Development Control Committee that a planning application for housing was in breach of an outline planning approval and Planning Agreement to transfer land to the council as public open space.

These complaints were investigated by the Development Control Manager, Alan Taylor, who was one of the officers that the resident had complained about. The Development Control Manager concluded that the council had acted entirely correctly.

The resident submits further complaints to the council. The complaints were that council officers erroneously gave consent for the felling of protected trees; failed to take action over the unlawful felling of protected trees; and failed to enforce replanting conditions of protected trees or statutory obligations to replant protected trees.

These complaints were investigated by the Local Plans and Conservation Manager, Chris Hardman, who concluded that there had been delays, but these were not unacceptable, and there had been no contravention of the Tree Preservation Order.

September 2005. Resident was not satisfied with the investigation of the complaints, and requests referral of the complaints to a Board of Arbitration of local councillors in accordance with the council's complaints procedures. Council officers ignores the request.

October 2005. Resident makes a second request for the complaints to be referred to a Board of Arbitration of local councillors. Council officers ignores the second request.

December 2005. Resident refers complaints to the Local Government Ombudsman.

February 2006. A Council officer makes an apology to the resident for their failure to refer the complaints to a Board of Arbitration of local councillors. But the council officer did not offer to rectify this and set up a Board of Arbitration to consider the complaints.

August 2006. Local Government Ombudsman Investigator, Richard Corney, concludes there is no useful purpose continuing the investigation and proposes to discontinue the investigation and close the complaint. Resident makes complaint to Deputy Ombudsman about the Investigator. LGO Investigator had misrepresented the facts, concealed and ignored evidence of maladministration causing injustice, and failed to follow LGO guidance.

September 2006. Deputy Ombudsman, Neil Hobbs, declines to uphold the resident's complaint against Local Government Ombudsman Investigator and finds no fault. But Local Government Ombudsman reverses their earlier decision and decides to continue the investigation.

May 2007. Local Government Ombudsman report finds maladministration causing injustice in part, but fails to recommend remedies in accordance with Local Government Ombudsman guidance. In respect of the council's complaints procedures, the Local Government Ombudsman concludes the resident should have been given the right to air his grievances before the Board of Arbitration, and recommended a payment of a sum in recognition of his time and trouble in pursuing his complaint.

The evidence the Local Government Ombudsman conceal and the council maladministration the Local Government Ombudsman condone

The Local Government Ombudsman defines maladministration as including failure to follow procedures. The council officers failed to follow the council’s complaints procedures as it ignored the resident's request for a Board of Arbitration. By the Local Government Ombudsman's definition that was maladministration.

The LGO defines injustice as including loss of right and the time and trouble pursuing a justified complaint. The resident lost the right to put complaints before a Board of Arbitration of local councillors due to the omissions of council officers. By the LGO's definition that was injustice. By the Local Government Ombudsman's definitions there was maladministration and injustice, and the injustice was caused by the council’s officers maladministration.

The Local Government Ombudsman Investigator decides after 8 months of investigation, that there is no useful purpose in continuing the investigation, and proposes to discontinue it. The Local Government Ombudsman Investigator's findings did not mention that council officers failed to refer the resident's complaints to a Board of Arbitration of local councillors, and failed to follow the Council's complaints procedures. The LGO Investigator wilfully concealed evidence of maladministration causing injustice. The Local Government Ombudsman investigation was no more than a charade. 

The Deputy Ombudsman's decision not to uphold the resident's complaint against the Local Government Ombudsman Investigator was perverse, irrational, and unhinged. He lacked the balls to acknowledge the truth. His decsion was inconsistent with their decision to continue the investigation, and their decision to issue a report of maladministration causing injustice.

The Local Government Ombudsman report fails to criticise the way the council dealt with the resident's complaints, and thus condones council malpractice in dealing with complaints. For instance, some of the resident's complaints were investigated by the Development Control Manager, who was the subject of the complaints. It is contrary to good administrative practice, and the rules of natural justice, for a council officer to investigate a complaint made against himself. The LGO fails to criticise the council for this, and fails to recommend that the council discontinue this practice. By these omissions, the Local Government Ombudsman condones council malpractice and maladministration.

Council officers deliberately ignored repeated requests to refer the resident's complaints to a Board of Arbitration of local councillors, so as to conceal the complaints from local councillors and force the resident to refer the complaint to the Local Government Ombudsman, in the knowledge that the Local Government Ombudsman is not impartial and may cover up the maladministartion. The council stated that the Corporate Complaints Officer was on sick leave, and no one dealt with resident's letters in the cfficer's absence. The Local Government Ombudsman fails to mention in the report that this was maladministration, nor does the LGO recommend the council take action to ensure this does not reoccur. By these omissions, the LGO condones council maladministration.

The Local Government Ombudsman report rightly states that the resident should have been given the right to air his grievances before the Board of Arbitration, but the LGO fails to recommend that the council take action to ensure that complaints are referred to a Board of Arbitration when a request is made. By this omission, the Local Government Ombudsman encourages the council to continue ignoring complainant's requests for a Board of Arbitration, and condones council maladministration.

The sum the Local Government Ombudsman recommend the council pay to the resident in recognition of his time and trouble in pursuing his complaint is derisory, and does not reflect either the time or trouble incurred in pursuing the complaints. The time and trouble was unnecessarily more than it should have been due to the actions and omissions of both the LGO and council officers. Had council officers followed their policies and procedures, the resident would not have had to make any complaints to the council. The failure of council officers to acknowledge their errors and rectify them in a timely manner resulted in the unnecessary referral of complaints to the Local Government Ombudsman. The LGO deliberately manipulated and concealed evidence in favour of the council, and spun out the length of the investigation in the hope the resident would give up.

This case highlights how the Local Government Ombudsman conceals evidence of maladministration in favour of the council. It is quite clear from this evidence that the LGO is not impartial.