Our Town Hall reporter, KEN LEE, crunches some numbers and finds that according to the annual report from the Local Government Ombudsman, our council does not compare well, however you dress it up
Official figures from the Local Government Ombudsman show that Croydon, under the leadership of chief exec Jo Negrini and council leader Tony Newman, had more complaints upheld against it last year than any other borough in London.
The Ombudsman upheld a total of 38 Croydon complaints raised with their office in the 12 months of 2018 to 2019. In another 78 cases, the Ombudsman referred them back to Croydon to be resolved locally.
In total, the Ombudsman received 211 complaints about Croydon Council’s conduct over the course of the year, a total, according to the official figures in the department’s annual report published last week, exceeded in England and Wales only by the city council of Birmingham (484) and Transport for London (278).
As Inside Croydon’s loyal reader observed, “At least Birmingham has a renovated shopping centre worthy of the 21st century.”
And as you should have come to expect from Croydon Council under “We’re Not Stupid” Negrini, none of these figures have ever been mentioned in a council press release nor published on the council’s expensively maintained website.
Inside Croydon has been publishing a monthly tally of the incoming complaints published by the Ombudsman this calendar year, but the latest figures from the official arbiter’s annual report should make those who inhabit the seventh floor of Fisher’s Folly a little less settled in their hot-desking seats than is normal.
After all, there can be great differences in the size of the populations being served – Croydon, at 350,000 people, is London’s most populous borough – and the budgets available at their disposal. There can also be great differences in the demands placed on councils between rural authorities and those boroughs in larger cities.
But Inside Croydon has no such qualms.
Our 2018-2019 London local authorities league table
1, Croydon 38
2, Haringey 37
3, Lambeth 35
4, Bromley 33
5, Newham 27
6=, Southwark, Barnet, Waltham Forest, Hillingdon and Ealing 24
*based on the number of complaints upheld by the Ombudsman
Croydon is, after all, competing in a very competitive field in London. According to the Ombudsman’s report, London has the highest rate of upheld complaints, with 63 per cent of all detailed investigations being upheld. In Croydon, 58 per cent of complaints were upheld.
London’s bottom 10 represents something of a triple whammy for Croydon’s £220,000 per year CEO Negrini, as it includes Newham, where she worked before coming to Croydon, as well as her other prevvious council employer, Lambeth. She must be sooo proud.
Tory-run Bromley’s position in the bottom four may surprise, but it comes after a somewhat fraught period with its children’s services department in special measures (a situation it has since recovered). Croydon’s children’s services remain in special measures following an “inadequate” rating by Ofsted inspectors in 2017.
By way of further comparison with other outer London boroughs south of the river, LibDem-controlled Sutton had just nine complaints upheld out of 65, while Labour-run Merton had 22 complaints upheld from 106 received by the Ombudsman.
And while the bald figures do represent a crude metric of local authority performance, each individual report from the Ombudsman, some of which Inside Croydon has re-published in the last six months, tends to illustrate the unprofessional, shoddy and often callous manner in which Croydon deals with some of the borough’s residents, including many who are among the most vulnerable.
A focus by all parties on the outcomes of cases brought before the Ombudsman is something which the office-holder, Michael King, says he would prefer.
Writing in the annual report, King said, “All too often conversations about complaints focus on the raw numbers. We believe there is a much more productive discussion to be had about the outcomes of those complaints, the real-world improvements made and the lessons that can be shared.
“For the first time, we’re publishing all the ‘service improvements’ we’ve recommended; and the rate at which councils have taken them on board. And to help share these lessons more widely and encourage scrutiny, we’ve launched an online map, putting each council’s data just one click away
“The new map is a mine of searchable information that can be used by council officers to learn from complaints, councillors to scrutinise complaints and decisions about their authorities, and residents to hold their local authorities to account.”
Inside Croydon readers can access the map by clicking here, and there should be someone in the Labour group at Croydon Town Hall who can show Tony Newman how to use it, too.
Just getting a case to the Ombudsman is a task which requires particular determination and dedication, since a resident must endure going through at least two stages of complaint with Croydon Council first. Cases being resolved by the Ombudsman this year in many instances date back to 2017.
And then, even when the Ombudsman does eventually hand down a ruling against a council, often their only recommended recompense is an apology.
The Ombudsman has strict regulations governing what sort of cases the office may, or may not, look into. Planning issues, housing, children’s services, adult social services and Council Tax are all matters within the Ombudsman’s remit.
The latest report shows that across the country, the Ombudsman registered 16,899 complaints and enquiries over the period, more than one-third of which were about children and education services, and adult social care. The Ombudsman made 3,525 recommendations to local authorities of how they can make amends.
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