…….however I am now confused as to how to go about the reply. Anyone who has been following my blog since its inception last April will be aware of the fact that for 11 months now I have been trying to get disabled access for a park that I informed the council was needed 4 months before a blade of turf was touched to install it. This stonewalling was compounded when at the February Full Council meeting unbeknownst to the two minority Councillors an item on the Agenda was discussing that the one accessible play field with playground as going to be downsized on the grounds of some fairly spurious noise and anti social behaviour complaints (one of which stemmed from a newly elected Councillor and a FOI act application showed in 18 months 4 reported elements of ASB the first 3 were in an 8 day period in October 2 unsubstantiated, 1 appeared to be a house party overspill and the other was 8pm on a summer evening on the last day of term in July 2015). The agenda item wasn’t even a discussion really it was a done deal and a vote was taken that night before exploring alternatives. This decision was made despite me giving a talk and speaking to the Town Council about the impact that it would have under the Equality Act. The police do not want it moved to Browick Rec it would seem, 1048 petition signatures do not want it moved yet 1 councillor and 3-4 neighbours do so no compromises get looked at – how does that work?
The minority Councillors weren’t expecting a vote about it and when the minutes were produced from the meeting what I said was massively under represented and there was no log of me handing my complaint in.
My first complaint if you remember was responded to with a one sentence reply of “I have forwarded your letter on to our insurers as you suggested” that was it, no response to any of my questions nothing. I then put together a second detailed complaint and asked the council to respond to it in line with their procedures detailed on their website. My complaint read a some 3000 words in total and listed a number of concerns where I felt the Equality Act had been breached and their Public Sector Equality Duty in addition to a number of general questions relating to why the decision was made, what was going to happen to ensure access and why was that site deemed suitable. I not only posted my complaint but I copied it in to four Councillors. I received an email response that read in its entirety
Good morning Mr Seach
Thank you for your email
I have been instructed to forward your second letter of complaint to the Councils insurers and have advised the Cllrs that you list below of this course of action.
So despite the seriousness of my complaint and the number of questions I asked once again my reply was one sentence. I was incensed by this so I replied with an email of my own which read
Good Morning Mr Gurney,
Why has my 2nd complaint a follow up to the original that was not replied to simply been forwarded to your insurers, I specifically asked for a number of points relating to the council’s failure to comply with the equality act to be replied to by the council, not forwarded to your insurers, who instructed you to not follow the council’s procedure and to forward my complaint to you insurers?. In addition to me asking the council to consider my complaint as stage 2 of your complaints procedure I listed a number of questions that I specifically want answering. Your policy taken off your website this morning states
Your Appeal to the Chairman of the Council will be acknowledged within three working days of you contacting us.
The chairman and/or a designated Councillor (for which I proposed 4 that would be suitable) will investigate your complaint.
They will be independent of the service you are complaining about, and will send you a report of the investigation within 25 working days. The decision of the Chairman is final and there is no further appeal process for Town and Parish Councils
I wish to state for the record that I am expecting the Council to investigate my very serious complaint in accordance with your procedures defined above. I formerly give notice that since you received my complaint on the 24/02/2016 today is day three of the above procedure.
I wasn’t willing to let nothing be done about such a serious matter. Two of the four Councillors responded to me (the two minority Councillors I hasten to add) and one came and had a meeting with me.
At the full council meeting in March Cllr Underwood raised a number of issues with the minutes from the previous meeting including the omission of my complaint being handed in, and he also queried why it wasn’t being dealt with in accordance with the council’s own complaints procedure. He was told it was being. Well unknown to either of us, he was told that it was being because a letter had been sent to me that day. Obviously I hadn’t received it at that point.
Having now received the letter, I would once again question as to whether they are actually following their procedure. the letter although it shows they are finally taking my complaint seriously at long last doesn’t actually tell me that they have started their 25 day investigation. The letter reads;
Dear Mr Seach
I acknowledge receipt of your letter received on the 24th February 2016 to Cllrs, Wyer, Halls, Underwood & Osborne. I have registered this as a stage 2 complaint under the council’s Comments & Complaints procedures (which is on our website)
Due to the complex nature of your complaint I am seeking further legal advice through the Council’s insurers and when this has been received I hope to be able to write to you further.
You are aware of the stage 2 appeal process but I would urge you to allow me time to obtain the insurance companies legal advice before proceeding further.
My gut instinct tells me that I should not allow extra time. Firstly I raised the issue regarding the Equality Act (2010) in relation to Ketts Park in April 2015, and secondly my first complaint relating to the councils decision over KHM was handed in on the 2nd February and I received a letter saying they had sent it to the councils insurers, why do they now need more time to seek legal advice, they had 3 weeks between receiving my first and second complaint. I do not want to push too hard, but nor do I want this dragging on any longer than is necessary, after all on the 8th of this month it will be exactly 11 months from my first contact!
I have spoken once again this afternoon to the EASS and they suggested speaking to a couple of friendly Councillors (if there is such a thing (their words not mine)) and failing that reporting them to the Local Council Government Ombusdman. Time to take some advice from the other members of the Extraordinary Eight!