How Argyll & Bute Works: complaints management

In a previous post I told you about the complaint made by Alan Stewart of South Cowal Community Development Company (SCCDC) over the way council officers handled the community buyout. That post can be read here.

Others made similar complaints to Alan and each complaint made serious allegations against the 3 most senior council officers. Each complaint specifically asked that the complaints were handled externally and independently on the very obvious grounds that it was hard to see how they could be handled fairly by the very people named in the complaints.

Readers will know that councillors are in danger of breaking the code of conduct if they publicly criticise officers so I offer no comment on any of this but I can summarise the facts in the following manner relative to Alan Stewart’s complaint:

  1. His complaint was against the 3 most senior officials in Argyll & Bute Council, Mrs Loudon, Mr Hendry and Mr Sneddon.
  2. Mrs Loudon ignored the request for the complaint to be handled externally and instead asked external legal advisers if it was  legal to handle it herself. The legal advice was yes, it’s legal, or so Alan Stewart is told.
  3. Alan asks to see the legal advice and what was asked and is told no, it’s confidential. The council’s complaints procedure aims to put the complainant “at the heart of the process” you may be interested to know. The complaints leaflet can be found at this link if you wish to read it in full. complaints_leaflet_january_2013_v3
  4. Mrs Loudon then investigated herself and her 2 closest colleagues and found no fault in what they have done. Alan was advised of this and was told if he is not satisfied he can go to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO).
  5. Alan appeals to SPSO and now the issue is magnified because not only is there his original complaint but he is also now complaining about the manner in which the complaint was handled.

The following sounds like a digression but it’s not:

I had a meeting with Marco Biagi MSP, Minister for Local Government & Community Empowerment, in August this year. This meeting was arranged via the offices of Michael Russell MSP who was also present. I was able to voice a range of concerns I had about the way Argyll & Bute Council operated and in particular the problems a councillor faces when he or she wishes to scrutinise what is happening in the council.

Also present was a councillor from another council in Scotland who had similar issues to me. Our common position was that when you try and scrutinise what is going on in local government, there is a high likelihood that you will be hounded and then reported to the Commissioner for Ethical Standards. See: http://www.ethicalstandards.org.uk/

Subsequently, there was email correspondence involving Michael Russell and another local person who had complained about his complaint being handled by the very people he had complained against. That person’s complaint was also about Castle Toward. This was forwarded to Marco Biagi and I was copied in, so was able to provide more information to the Minister.

The outcome was the letter from Marco Biagi at the link below. This has now been sent to various parties including Mrs Loudon and SPSO. It will be clear from reading his letter that investigating yourself is not exactly recommended.

Marco Biagi’s letter: reply from Marco Biagi reduced

Author: Michael Breslin

I am no longer a councillor with Argyll & Bute Council but given the appalling treatment I got from the senior officers and a few elected members, I plan to continue keeping an eye on what the council is doing.