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City council censured by Ombudsman for failing to show it implemented recommendations

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO) has heavily criticised Bristol City Council for failing to provide evidence it had completed recommendations in two separate complaints.

The LGSCO's investigations into the complaints, which involved missed bin collections and noise nuisances, were completed in early 2020. In both cases, the council accepted the Ombudsman's decision and its recommendations to put things right for the men who had complained. It also accepted recommendations to improve its services for other people in the city.

Owing to the Covid-19 crisis, the Ombudsman suspended chasing the council for evidence it had complied with the recommendations during the first lockdown in Spring 2020.

Once it resumed its casework, in both cases, the Ombudsman contacted the council, including the chief executive, numerous times for a response. But it was not until the Ombudsman registered fresh complaints in November 2020 that the council provided the evidence needed to comply.

The council has explained to the Ombudsman it recognises it had an issue with "case handling resource problems". It carried out an independent internal investigation resulting in recommendations for improvements being made to the chief executive.

According to Bristol, these improvements include an increase in staff resources dealing with complaints and new practices for the Complaints Manager for monitoring Ombudsman cases.

The council says actions have been implemented in most of its cases from October 2020.

Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said that good complaints handling should be at the heart of any local authority's corporate governance arrangements and oversight, "but it is clear from these two cases there were significant issues in the city".

Mr King added: "I am pleased the council has acknowledged and identified there have been problems with its complaint handling. However, it should not have taken our intervention - including months of chasing, and our decision to register new complaints - to trigger this.

"This report demonstrates the efforts to which we go, to ensure councils follow-through on their commitments to put things right, and how we will hold them to account if they don't. I hope councils across the country will take lessons from it and ensure their own complaints arrangements meet the standards both we, and the people they serve, expect."

In response to the criticism, Bristol has agreed to review its revised arrangements for monitoring complaints and ensuring compliance with any future recommendations made. It said it would also ensure waste collection monitoring arrangements were robust so it could provide evidence of monitoring in future cases.

The council has also agreed to apologise to both men for not carrying out the actions previously agreed, and to pay them £100 to recognise the frustration and uncertainty caused.

In addition, the council still needs to satisfy the Ombudsman on an outstanding original recommendation made in the waste collection case, which was to update and provide a copy of its written missed collections policy, the LGSCO said.

A Bristol City Council spokesperson said: "We fully accept the findings of the Ombudsman and recognise that we have fallen short in both our initial handling of these complaints and our compliance with the recommendations made.

"We apologise for any distress and inconvenience caused in these cases. An internal investigation did produce recommendations for future improvements and we are taking steps to ensure that the appropriate actions are now taken forward."

Adam Carey