Local Government Ombudsman Annual Review Letter
The Service Manager (Customer & Theatre Services) provided the Finance & Audit Committee with a copy of the Local Government Ombudsman’s Annual Review Letter for Gravesham.
The Chief Executive informed the Committee the Letter is received annually and provides statistics that are associated with referrals to the Ombudsman office; the office found three faults in cases but it is a slightly more unusual situation here in the fact that the Chief Executive felt the actions of the Ombudsman were unwarranted due to Gravesham already concluding that they were at fault and providing an appropriate remedy to the problem.
The Service Manager (Customer & Theatre Services) added that she is awaiting a response for the Ombudsman Office regarding the decisions made as at the moment they indicate the three complaints were upheld but they do not recognize that the Council had already settled two of them before their involvement.
The Chief Executive summarised one of the cases to Member’s:
- Part of the initial problem was that when the complainant raised the issue they were complaining about the works that were being carried out with the planning permission granted by the Regulatory Board
- The Regulatory Boards mind-set was that the reasons for the objections put forward by the complainant were more to deal with civil ownership matters than planning and should be dealt with through the Party Wall Act
- The complainants escalated the complaint to Stage 2 and added further issues to the initial complaint; these were addressed and it was reiterated to them that a number of the issues were civil matters not planning ones
- They were still not happy and progressed it to stage 3 at which point it landed on the Chief Executives desk and was investigated personally with great detail; it should be noted that several more issues were added to the complaint at that stage
- They introduced an allegation that two Councillors on the Regulatory Board had a very close relationship with the developer in question but the two Councillors were met with and they gave assurances that there was no truth to it and no evidence was found that backed up the allegations
- Again, no fault could be found with the planning permission having been granted and the development moving forward so that was communicated back to the complainants while also advising if they still weren’t happy they could progress it to the Ombudsman office, which they did
- The Ombudsman decided after the initial process that there would be an investigation; an investigator was appointed and he decided on the basis of the fact that the complainants had made a reference back to 2008 in which planning permission was first approved that the investigation would start there
- After looking through everything in detail the Ombudsman found out that the complainants had made an objection back in 2008 but could not see their objections as having been taken into consideration within the Planning Officers reasons for granting permission to the original application
- The Ombudsman concluded that those objections had not been given due consideration; the Officer in question is still working for the Council and when questioned advised that he did consider all the objections that were received but did not feel the need to put it on the reasons; it should be noted that the reasons for decisions is now filled out much more stringently than 10 years ago
- It was most likely an error of the investigator to apply contemporary standards to something which occurred nearly ten years ago
- The complaints ignored advice to go through the Party Wall Act again and went through litigation with the developer which GBC were not party to as that was a separate dispute
- The complainants also had a problem with the contracted complaints process but this was down to other duties taking more time for the Chief Executive
- The end result was that GBC were ordered to pay a £300 compensation fine and send a written apology which is a very minor consequence showing that the seriousness of the complaint was very minimal
The Chief Executive added in his own opinion that the fine was minor in part due to the investigator making a mistake; the Ombudsman is supposed to release the draft findings of the investigation to the complainants and the authority in question at the same time. However it emerged from an email to the complainant that they acquired the draft findings first as well as spoke about the draft findings with the Ombudsman prior to GBC even receiving them.
Following Members question the Chief Executive explained that:
- Some of the more serious offences can drive up the cost of compensation into the tens of thousands
- GBC has a published complaints procedure that comprises of three stages of which the complaint progresses through it if it is not dealt with in the first instance:
- Stage 1 – A complaint is made and is dealt with by the manager of the service
- Stage 2 – The complaint is then escalated to the Director of the service
- Stage 3 – The complaint is brought finally to the desk of the Chief Executive
The Chair thanked the Chief Executive for the informative update and shared the sentiment of the Committee that the £300 compensation fee was a very minor consequence and there was some fault with the Ombudsman’s handling of the case.
- F&A report Ombudsman Annual Review Letter, item 19. PDF 82 KB
- Appendix II Annual Letter, item 19. PDF 245 KB
- Appendix III - 14 010 084 Final Decision, item 19. PDF 164 KB
- Appendix IV - 15 016 160 Final Decision, item 19. PDF 118 KB
- Appendix V - 16 002 197 Final Decision, item 19. PDF 94 KB