St Helens Council’s monitoring officer has admitted that “mistakes are going to be made” after a local government watchdog upheld a series of complaints against the authority.
In 2018-19, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman received 38 complaints and enquiries regarding St Helens Council.
The complaints and enquiries related to adult care services (13), education and children’s services (6), benefits and tax (5), environment services (5), planning and development (3), housing (2), highways and transport (2), and corporate and other services (2).
Of the total figure, five were upheld by the Ombudsman and six were not upheld.
In addition, 15 were referred back for local resolution, advice was given on one occasion and 13 were closed after initial enquiries.
The council complied with the recommended remedy on all five upheld complaints.
Mark Fisher, St Helens Council’s monitoring officer and legal services manager, presented the Ombudsman’s annual review letter to the standards committee on Monday.
Mr Fisher said: “One of the major points in it, it does note that there were five complaints that were upheld by the Ombudsman against the council.
“Whilst obviously every complaint upheld is to be regretted, this is in fact three down from the previous year.
“Clearly with issues on pressures on staff at the moment, mistakes are going to be made and we are trying to keep those mistakes to a minimum.”
Former council leader Derek Long said the number of complaints, given the hundreds of thousands of interactions the council has with residents, was a “reasonable number”.
Mr Fisher also gave councillors an update on the number of complaints upheld during the current financial year.
For 2019-20, between June and November, there were two complaints upheld, one of which was for maladministration of injustice.
Mr Fisher reiterated that it was “very, very difficult” not to make mistakes given the number of issues council staff have.
Labour’s Martin Bond, cabinet member for finance and chairman of the standards committee, echoed the monitoring officer’s comments.
Coun Bond said: “Anything that is upheld is regrettable. The sheer volume of the processing is such that it will give rise to that.
“We all wish it could a council of perfection – but it can’t be by its nature.
“Whilst not welcoming the fact that there are complaints that have been upheld it’s worth noting that they are minimal in the circumstances.”