Nearly 100 complaints about county council

County Hall, Northumberland County Council's headquarters.
County Hall, Northumberland County Council's headquarters.

Almost 100 complaints about Northumberland County Council were made to the ombudsman for local government last year.

However, more than half (54) of the 98 made in 2017-18 were referred back for local resolution. Another 10 were incomplete or invalid and 13 were closed after initial inquiries.

Of the complaints about the council which went forward, nine were upheld against 12 which weren’t – a rate of 43 per cent.

The hot topics among the Northumberland complaints were education and children’s services (20), tax and benefits (20), adult social care (19) and planning and development (15).

And one of the upheld complaints resulted in the issuing of a public interest report, with the ombudsman criticising the council for failing to assess vulnerable young children at risk of harm.

As previously reported, the investigation found that despite multiple appeals from the family for help to protect their younger children from threats of violence made by their teenage son, the local authority did not do enough to safeguard them.

This information all comes from the the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman’s annual review of complaints, which was issued last week.

The report shows that there were 17,452 complaints and inquiries about local government in 2017-18, compared with 16,863 in the previous year.

Significantly, the proportion of complaints upheld has increased to 57 per cent – up from 54 per cent the previous year.

The ombudsman has also issued 40 per cent more public interest reports about local authorities in the same period.

On a regional level, the North East has the highest proportion of children and education complaints upheld.

Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said: “The raw data included in our report can only tell a part of the story – the wider outcomes from the complaints we receive are far more important than the numbers.

“For a long time, we’ve been pressing just how important complaints can be as a learning tool for local authorities – and a great source of free feedback about the health of the services they provide.”

Since the ombudsman first started releasing its annual reviews in 2014, its complaint uphold rate has increased sharply from 46 per cent to 57 per cent of detailed investigations.

In the same period, complaints about children and education services have increased from 38 per cent to 65 per cent.

Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service