‘Cul­ture of com­plaints non­sen­si­cal’

Western Mail - - NEWS - MARTIN SHIPTON Chief re­porter martin.shipton@waleson­line.co.uk

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

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