Complaints cost council cash

INDIVIDUALS and pressure groups are abusing council complaints procedures, often over frivolous matters, to waste time and money - it has been claimed.

As one example an unnamed individual in Whitby has made 41 separate complaints – over matters such as councillors not answering emails quickly enough and alleged code of conduct breaches – which if investigated fully could have cost up to £82,000. The issue was highlighted at a recent meeting of Scarborough Council’s Audit Committee and the information was contained in a report prepared by Ian Anderson, the council’s head of legal services. According to the report there were a total of 61 complaints, since May 2008, against councils including: Scarborough Borough Council (SBC), Whitby Town Council, Goathland Parish Council and others along the east coast. Coun Bill Chatt, the committee chairman, said the person from Whitby had made 18 complaints about individual town councillors at one meeting.

Mr Anderson said a full investigation and hearing would typically be between £1,500 and £2,000 – but if mediation was used to resolve the issue it was around £500. He added: “We’ve had quite a few complaints and a very small number have been referred for investigation. We are well in line with it. With those that have been investigated there was little alternative.” Mr Anderson said complaints initially went to a referral committee and it was rare they went any further. Coun Chatt added members of the public were using these mechanisms to beat councillors down on a regular basis. He said: “At the moment small groups are complaining about everything that goes wrong and the cost can be quite phenomenal. If somebody is doing something wrong they should be brought to book but we don’t want this cost getting out of hand. At the end of the day we are not paying for it, it is the local rate payers.” Coun Svetlana Rodgers said if a complaint was investigated, and it was found there was no case to answer, then the complainant should foot the bill but Mr Anderson said the cost was the council’s responsibility.