Jo Negrini, the council’s £200,000 per year chief executive, this week returned from holiday to her office on the ninth floor of Fisher’s Folly to find on her desk some excoriating criticism of how her organisation handles residents’ complaints.
And this was not the kind of critical correspondence that Negrini can ignore – as she has a tendency to do according to a growing band of disgruntled residents.
For this was the annual review of Croydon’s performance according to the Local Government Ombudsman, in which it details complaints about the council which had reached the LGO.
In his letter, Michael King, the ombudsman, made his displeasure plain at the council’s slowness to deal with complaints which he said caused one vulnerable young man “extreme distress”. King wrote, “Throughout the complaint, we were concerned by the Council’s lack of engagement with the process.”
In another case, which did not end up having to be considered by the LGO, King notes that the council was “very defensive” in its handling.
King’s letter details the two cases for the previous year in which his office intervened. Of course, before any resident can take up a complaint about Croydon Council with the ombudsman, they must first go through the council’s own, internal complaints procedure.
According to one resident who has been through that process with Croydon, “People dealing with the council are usually well and truly exhausted after the time delays that go with a Stage 1 and Stage 2 complaint,” suggesting that, having been worn down by Negrini’s staff, they have no appetite for following up with the LGO.
The ombudsman’s letter to Croydon says: “During the year we issued two public reports about your Council.
“The first concerned a failure to provide suitable respite care and to ensure continuity of care through transition from children to adult services. This caused a young man with complex needs, extreme distress from a lack of planning and maintaining a routine and placed undue pressure on his grandmother who provided his care.
“As well as apologising for the person affected and his carer for the faults identified, the council were also asked to pay £5,000 for the harm caused to each for the lack of respite for two years and a further £1,250 for the carer. A range of service improvements including an urgent review of the Council’s Transition to Adulthood policies and procedures were also recommended.
“Throughout the complaint, we were concerned by the Council’s lack of engagement with the process. It took from 22 August to 3 October (6 weeks) for the council to respond to pre-allocation enquiries. Then when investigation enquiries were made on the 22 November it took a further six weeks until 5 January for a response. The Council then failed to respond to the draft report. This was particularly concerning given the significant failings identified by the investigation and the resultant injustice to a young man with complex disabilities and his carer.
“In another case we issued a report about the Council’s failure to provide support to a young woman with a life-limiting condition for over a year resulting in her father using his own funds which did not cover the full package of care. To remedy the injustice as well as issuing an apology the Council agreed to pay a total of £4,750 to the young woman and her family.
“In this case I am pleased to say that the Council were quick to accept the faults identified by the investigation and in implementing the remedy.
“In another case, a report was averted at the eleventh hour. The Council’s approach was very defensive and challenged the Ombudsman’s conclusions between September 2017 and March 2018 and only at the stage when the draft report was ready to be sent out were the recommendations accepted. This caused a lot of unnecessary work and delay in getting the right outcome for the complainant.”
The tone of the ombudsman’s letter to Croydon is stern and disapproving throughout.
“The thing with the LGO is that are dealing all the time with hard cases and council failures,” a Katharine Street source said today. “But if you take a look at the LGO’s reports to other London boroughs, their tone is nowhere near as disapproving as it is in the report to Croydon.
“This report covers a similar period when the Ofsted inspectors were visiting just over a year ago and found the children’s services department to be inadequate. Whenever the council is subject to scrutiny from outside organisations, its found to come up short.
“Maybe Negrini and her senior colleagues need to spend less time patting themselves on the back over meaningless awards, and more time implementing what government-appointed inspectors tell them to do.”
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