by Lewis Smith
THE number of complaints referred to the Ombudsman about local authorities in Wales increased by 47% this year according to the annual letter from the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales.
The annual Ombudsman’s letter to councils for 2022, breaks down a variety of complaints relating to maladministration and service failure, as well as complaints linked to alleged breaches of the Code of Conduct for councillors.
According to the letter, the number of complaints referred relating to maladministration and service failure had increased by 47%, when compared to figures from the 20/21 period, and were well above pre-pandemic levels.
It was noted however that this could be due to a rebound effect from the pandemic, with the ombudsman stating, “It is likely that complaints to my office, and public services in general, were suppressed during the pandemic, and we are now starting to see the expected ‘rebound’ effect.”
A record figure of 20 complaints relating to the Code of Conduct for Councillors, were also either referred to the Adjudication Panel for Wales or local standards committees in the same time-frame.
In Bridgend a total of 55 complaints were received, with 15% of these related to issues around children’s social services, 15% to education, and 11% for housing.
In Neath Port Talbot there was a total number of 45 complaints referred with the largest percentage of those regarding planning and building control at 22%, complaints Handling 18%, and a further 16% involving children’s social services.
An additional report published by the Complaints Standards Authority showed that more than 15,000 complaints were received by Welsh Local Authorities in the 21/22 financial year, which is the equivalent of 4.9 complaints for every 1,000 residents. Of these figures waste and refuse complaints made up around a third of all complaints.
Michelle Morris, the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales said:
“We’re proud to be able to show data for the full financial year and for the first time we’re able to see more of the complaints landscape. This information allows us to look beyond the headline and consider what this performance means, both for the general public and how they experience local services, and allows us to track how those services can improve.”
Matthew Harris, Public Services Ombudsman for Wales head of complaints standards, added:
“I think having this information in one place drives transparency and consistency, but more than that, it allows real scrutiny of what numbers like these actually mean. This data allows us to do more than simply consider volumes, and start using information to drive improvement in public service delivery.”
All councils have now been asked to present the annual letter to their respective cabinets and governance and audit committees, to assist members in their scrutiny of the council’s performance.