Number of complaints to government watchdog about Portsmouth council on the rise

Portsmouth City Council solicitor Michael Lawther

Portsmouth City Council solicitor Michael Lawther

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THE number of complaints to a government watchdog about the services provided by Portsmouth City Council is on the rise, new figures reveal.

But the authority attracts fewer complaints than similar councils.

It’s never a good thing to be complained about, and never good when the number of complaints are increasing. ‘But proportionally, the number of complaints this council receives is lower than our neighbours, which is a good thing.

Michael Lawther

A dossier put before the authority’s scrutiny panel showed the Ombudsman received 47 cases by residents unhappy about the work of eight different departments in 2015/2016, up from 45 the year before.

The most cases were filed against education and children’s services, which went up from 11 to 15.

Next were issues with adult social care – dealt the most cuts in this year’s budget – which rose from 10 to 13.

Problems with benefits and council tax rose from three to eight, while environment and public protection rose from three to five. Cases against transport fell from nine to five, housing dropped from four to two, corporate matters fell from four to three and planning remained at one.

Only two of the 47 cases were upheld by the Ombudsman, with the majority – 25 – being filed back to council officials to deal with.

Fewer complaints were made about Portsmouth than any other neighbouring council; with the most being taken up against Brighton and Hove – 123.

Southampton had 20 more than Portsmouth with 67.

But the number of ‘class one category’ complaints lodged directly to the council – which are reviewed and responded to by a manager within the service – went from 89 in 2015/2016 to 116 in 2016/2017.

Addressing the findings, Portsmouth City Council city solicitor and deputy chief executive Michael Lawther said: ‘It’s never a good thing to be complained about and never good when the number of complaints are increasing.

‘But proportionally, the number of complaints this council receives is lower than our neighbours, which is a good thing.

‘We will have to continue to monitor the number of complaints in future.’

Scrutiny panel chairman Tory councillor Ian Lyon asked whether the council’s procedure for dealing with complaints was good enough.

Mr Lawther insisted ‘robust and effective’ practices were in place.

Panellist and Lib Dem councillor Leo Madden said: ‘I find the report fascinating.

‘I welcome complaints, I think any authority which doesn’t deal with complaints is running away scared.

‘Only two cases were upheld by the Ombudsman.’

The bulk of complaints made directly to the council were about work outside children services and education, which only made up four.

The most came in property and housing – 53 – up from 50.

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