As readers of previous posts will know, Alan Stewart of South Cowal Community Development Company (SCCDC) submitted a complaint about 3 senior council officers over the way they handled the community buyout of Castle Toward. This was submitted on 1 September.
The complaint can be found here and it is well worth a read: Castle Toward Complaint reduced size
You will see from the complaint that Alan made it clear he wanted it to be handled externally because the complaint was against the 3 most senior officers in the council. This was a wholly justifiable position to take and I think most people would agree that the last people who should go near your complaint are the people you are complaining about. However, that is not the way things work in Argyll & Bute. Alan got a reply today from the council’s chief executive and this is reproduced in full below.
The timing of the reply is curious though because when we found out that it was being handled internally, Cllr Bruce Marshall and I submitted an urgent motion for tomorrow’s council meeting asking for the complaint to be handled externally. I got confirmation yesterday that the motion will go to the council meeting tomorrow and then this morning Alan gets a reply. Funny that, but it almost certainly means they can now refuse to consider our motion on the grounds the complaint has been considered and rejected. The motion Bruce and I submitted can be read here: motion re SCCDC complaint
Alan will now complain to the Ombudsman, exposing Argyll & Bute to potential criticism. He has also asked the chief executive for sight of the legal advice she has taken and what the questions were to those external legal advisers. This is referred to in her response to Alan, details immediately below.
Do you think it’s right that if you complain about someone that the same person can deal with your complaint?
—–Original Message—– From: Loudon, Sally <Sally.Loudon@argyll-bute.gov.uk> To: ‘Alan Stewart’ <email@example.com> Sent: Wed, 23 Sep 2015 9:46 Subject: Castle Toward – Stage 2 Complaint – 101000348194 [OFFICIAL]
Dear Mr Stewart
I refer to your email of 1 September 2015 against myself, and two other senior officers of the Council which has been treated as a stage 2 complaint in terms of the Council’s corporate complaints procedure.
I have noted your position that I, being a subject of the complaint, could not carry out the investigation. I have received external legal advice which confirms that it is appropriate for me to investigate and respond to your complaint.
You have summarised your complaint as having three parts, and I have responded to each of them as detailed below.
1. Information was used in a highly selective and misleading manner by two senior officers of the Council.
The external legal advice I have taken has included consideration of this issue and has found no evidence to support your contentions.
In conclusion, I have to confirm based on my consideration of all the information available to me, I do not uphold this part of your complaint.
- The retrospective by the Chair of the Council’s Performance, Review and Scrutiny Committee adds weight to your complaint.
This is more of an assertion regarding a conclusion you have drawn from the Chair’s retrospective than it is a complaint. I do not agree with the conclusion you have drawn, and note that on the day of the meeting on 27th August 2015, the Chair of the PRS committee confirmed his view that Members were given correct advice by Officers. I further note, for completeness, that the Committee, on that date, agreed to formalise a document which will bring together their findings and any recommendations, which will be considered at their next meeting in November.
I therefore do not uphold this part of your complaint.
- Both senior Officers misled SCCDC and induced them to withdraw their appeal to the Lands Tribunal
The external legal advice I have received considered this issue and found that there is no conclusive evidence that SCCDC were misled and induced into withdrawing their appeal.
It is clear from the correspondence that neither of the two Officers had the authority to make such an offer to SCCDC and SCCDC’s representatives were aware that the decision as to whether a discount on the valuation should be allowed was a decision for the Council Members to make. I therefore do not uphold this part of your complaint.
Finally, I would confirm that in considering the issues you raise, I have had regard to the views of Audit Scotland who refer to Castle Toward, and comment that it remains their view that the Council took reasonable decisions regarding the community buy out proposals.
If you are not satisfied with this response then you have the right to ask the Scottish Public Service Ombudsman (SPSO) to consider your complaint.
The SPSO is the final stage for complaints about most organisations providing public services in Scotland including Councils and the service is independent, free and confidential. Their contact details are contained in the undernote.
The SPSO cannot normally look at complaints:
- where the customer has not gone all the way through the council’s complaints handling procedure.
- more than 12 months after the customer became aware of the matter they want to complain about.
- that have been or are being considered in court.
SPSO, 4 Melville Street, Edinburgh EH3 7NS
SPSO, Freepost EH641, Edinburgh EH3 0BR
Freephone: 0800 377 7330
Mobile site: http://m.spso.org.uk