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Watchdog slams York council for secrecy and delays.

A NATIONAL watchdog has sharply criticised City of York Council over its response to complaints.

Local Government Ombudsman Dr Jane Martin claimed there were unnecessary delays by the authority in responding to relatively simple and straightforward requests for information.

She also said in a letter to council deputy chief executive Ian Floyd:

There was an ‘impression of defensiveness and lack of transparency’ at the council.
The authority agreed on a settlement of a case being investigated by the LGO and then subsequently decided it would not implement it.
The council inappropriately served section 32(3) notices on the LGO , which should only ever be served in exceptional circumstances and not routinely used.
Section 32(3) allows councils to force the LGO to keep information confidential by claiming disclosure would be contrary to the public interest.
Dr Martin wrote: “We continue to have concerns about the way the Council responds to our enquiries and complies with our recommendations in some cases.

“We have seen examples of unnecessary delay in responding to relatively simple and straightforward requests for information. Matters have had to be escalated within the LGO in order to secure responses including the need to serve witness summons. Such action should not be necessary and is an inappropriate use of both LGO and Council resources.”

She said that in one case, the council had agreed to the ombudsman’s suggested settlement, then subsequently decided not to implement the agreed action after all.

The LGO investigates allegations of maladministration which are claimed to have caused injustice. In 2015/16, it received a total of 69 complaints and inquiries against City of York Council.

Of the decisions made, 26 were closed after initial inquiries, 14 were referred back for ‘local resolution’, four led to advice being given and two were incomplete or invalid.

Of the remaining 22 detailed investigations, 13 were upheld and nine were not.

Council assistant director Andy Docherty said the authority always welcomed feedback – positive or negative – from residents and stakeholders, took any complaints very seriously and had a rigorous complaints procedure to try to ensure any issues were dealt with in a timely and effective manner.
He said: “On the rare occasions this doesn’t happen, we review any mistakes to ensure we improve how we work in the future.

“This approach has helped to reduce the number of complaints and enquiries made to the LGO and has also reduced the number of decisions/detailed investigations by the LGO by almost a third (compared to last year’s figures).

“Our customers are at the very centre of everything we do and we will go forward to make sure our services continue to improve.”