The Monitoring Officer will report on any complaints received since the last meeting.
The Head of Law & Regulationreported that the two complaints to the Ombudsman reported previously were still on-going and no decision had been made on whether to investigate them.
Since the last meeting, there had been 8 further complaints submitted to the Ombudsman, 1 involving a City Councillor and the other 7 were complaints about community councillors.
The one complaint against the City councillor had not been accepted for investigation as it involved an alleged failure to reply to e-mails, which was not a breach of the Code.
Three of the complaints against community councils had also been rejected. One complaint was not investigated as there was no evidence of any breach of the code in relation to how the community council meeting had been chaired. Two complaints had not been accepted for investigation, even though there was evidence of a lack of respect, because the Ombudsman did not feel that the breach was serious enough and it was not in the public interest to investigate. However, the ombudsman would be writing to the two community councillors concerned to remind them of their duties under the Code to show respect and consideration to others and not bring their office as councillors into disrepute.
The Head of Law & Regulation reported that there were a number of issues involving community councils and several clerks had resigned.
John Davies stated that Bishton CC had made several complaints a couple of months ago but they had heard nothing. When the clerk followed this up, they were told that the complaints had gone to the spam e-mail box. He asked if anything could be done about this. The Head of Law & Regulation advised that there was an on-line complaint form on the Ombudsman web-site that could be completed and submitted electronically. The complaints are then acknowledged and given a unique reference number. He also believed that this was the community council complaint that had been reported last time and, therefore, it had been received and logged by the Ombudsman. However, if this was a different complaint, then it should have been acknowledged and given a reference number. The clerk should follow this up and check.
John Davies asked if there were any specific time scales for the Ombudsman to respond. The Head of law & regulation advised that there were no set timescales, although complainants should hear from the Ombudsman within 6-8 weeks about whether the complaint is going to be investigated. However, if a complaint was going to be fully investigated, that that process can take up to 9-12 months to complete.
John Davies asked if there was any way of challenging an ombudsman decision, as some complainants were unhappy that their complaints were not investigated. The Head of Law & Regulation advised that there was no further right of challenge and the Ombudsman was the final statutory arbiter of whether a complaint should be investigated. The only way of challenging his decision would be by way of judicial review proceedings in the High Court on a point of law and this was very expensive.