‘Culture of complaints nonsensical’
AFORMER council leader has deplored the “culture of complaint” he believes is increasingly prevalent in Welsh local government.
Hedley McCarthy, who was Labour leader of Blaenau Gwent council from 2012 until 2015, spoke after a complaint against him made by a council officer was thrown out by the authority’s standards committee.
He said: “The complaint made against me was ludicrous. An appointments committee meeting was held in July to interview candidates for the job of chief officer resources. It’s common practice for committee members to have ballot papers with the names of candidates on them, but on this occasion there was an extra tick box for the option ‘do not appoint’.
“I had never seen such a box before and said at the meeting that I found it curious. The current leader of the council [Independent Cllr Nigel Daniels] didn’t like me raising this point and said that if I was suggesting predetermination, he would be offended. I told him I was perfectly entitled to question the process. Later an officer involved in the process made a complaint against me, alleging I had demeaned them publicly. It all seemed completely ridiculous: I hadn’t uttered a word of criticism, but merely remarked that it was curious.”
Under the complaints procedure Cllr McCarthy was offered the opportunity to apologise to the officer, but refused to do so, saying he had nothing to apologise for. The matter then went to a formal hearing, which lasted three and a half hours. Members of the standards committee took another hour and a quarter to dismiss the complaint.
Cllr McCarthy said: “However in the right you may be, it is still stressful to have something like this hanging over you. I had to wait nearly four months to be cleared. Nonsensical complaints like this are clogging up the system in Wales, which is overseen by the Public Services Ombudsman. Often there are tit-for-tat complaints made by councillors from different parties trying to score points off each other. I’ve had half a dozen complaints made against me, all of which have been thrown out with no case to answer.
“The Ombudsman should be dealing with solid complaints, especially relating to the health service. I think the Welsh Government should look at how the complaints system is working and see what it can do to change things. There ought to be robust debates taking place within councils – that’s surely essential in any democracy. The culture of complaint is undermining that.”
Cllr Daniels did not respond to a detailed message we left for him.
> Hedley McCarthy