Sandgate Parking Complaint - A Tale of Woe.
What follows is the correspondence between myself and Shepway District Council about the Sandgate East CPZ (so far). What it boils down to is... I complained under Shepway's Corporate Complaints Procedure, Shepway chose to "investigate" it under another procedure (which took a while), Shepway decided they didn't agree with me (and sent me a broken - as of 2nd December at 16:40 - link to the procedure they didn't investigate it under), and now they'd like me to get back into my box please (the last bit is my assumption). This is what we pay our Council Tax for folks!
Meanwhile, I walk the Sandgate East CPZ most weekday mornings and find at least 20 unused spaces, while the rest of Sandgate's residents fight for an ever dwindling supply of parking spaces. Aren't "our" District Council brilliant!
13th October - Email sent to email@example.com
I wish to make a Stage 1 formal complaint, under the Corporate Complaints Procedure, about the conduct of Shepway District Council and its Officers with regards to decision 16/051 and report C/16/51.
The nature of my complaint is as follows:
1) That Shepway District Council's Parish Charter commits to "Providing a minimum of 6 weeks for consultation on any district wide or specific issues that affect parishes". That the consultation outlined in report C/16/51 took place between 22nd April 2016 and 16th May 2016, thus failing to comply with the commitment made in the Parish Charter. It is therefore my contention that Shepway District Council officers failed to adhere to the provisions of the Parish Charter during the process of consulting on the Sandgate East CPZ.
2) That report C/16/51, produced by Fred Miller, was both misleading and inaccurate. It was misleading because it failed to outline the objection of Sandgate Parish Council to the scheme, whilst implying that the Parish Council supported the scheme by noting that "With the help of the Parish Council, the proposals were widely publicised". It was inaccurate in that it suggested that parking on the maintenance gangway would be covered by the proposed pavement parking ban. Sandgate Parish Councillors Tim Prater and Robert Bliss had previously received advice from Beverly Dempster that there was no legal recourse for banning parking on the gangway without gaining ownership of, or leasing, the affected land. The report was also inaccurate because the alleged increase in the level of parking provision was predicated on the assumption that the new double yellow lines on Castle Road only removed the ability to park in places where one could not reasonably park. It has however long been the custom and practice of drivers to park on the affected stretch of Castle Road, thus meaning that there will in fact be a reduction. It is therefore my contention that Fred Miller failed to "provide appropriate advice" to the Cabinet member upon which to base decision number 16/051, as outlined in Part 8.3 2.1 of the Council's Constitution.
3) That decision number 16/051 was not made available to the public and Councillors on the Scrutiny Committee in a timely fashion. The decision was taken on 30th September 2016. The publicised link to the decision was not working as over October 3rd 2016. I raised the issue on Twitter on that day, receiving a response on October 5th to say that the link was now working. This amounted to a delay of three working days. On this basis, Councillors should have been allotted five clear working days after October 5th to call in the decision. The deadline for call in should therefore have been October 12th. To my knowledge this was not the case, although the District Council website states that the deadline was extended to Midday on Monday October 10th. Officers of the Council therefore failed to give Councillors sufficient time to consider whether or not the decision should be called in, as outlined in Part 7.3 2. of the Council's Constitution.
4) That on October 5th I contacted the Council in my role as a Parish Councillor to ascertain whether or not there would be an extension to the period allotted for calling in decision number 16/051. Officers of the Council failed to respond to that request and have yet to do so, despite responding "Hello Cllr Fuller. Thanks for this; we will see what we can do. Kind regards." to a request made later that same day. It is therefore my contention that officers failed in their commitment to "Ensuring an officer from the relevant service responds to specific queries/issues raised by parish councils", as outlined in the Shepway Parish Charter. It is also my contention that officers failed to "ensure courteous, efficient and impartial service delivery" as outlined in Part 8.3 5.2 of the Council's Constitution.
5) That, as a result of multiple requests from members of the public, with advice from Parish Councillors and the relevant District Councillor, three Scrutiny Committee members attempted to call in decision number 16/051. That Chief Executive Alistair Stewart deemed the call in requests invalid after the end of the call in period. That Alistair Stewart failed to give Councillors sufficient advice and time to amend their requests in order to satisfy the provisions of Part 7.3 3. of the Council's Constitution. That the decision to deem the call in invalid prevented sufficient scrutiny of decision number 16/051 and served to create resentment and ill feeling for Shepway District Council among residents of Sandgate Parish and Sandgate Parish Councillors, as evidenced by recent comments on the Streetlife social network. It is therefore my contention that Alistair Stewart failed in his responsibility to maintain "good internal and external relations", in that he created a negative perception of the Council as a result of his decision. This is one of the responsibilities outlined as being within the role of Chief Executive at http://www.shepway.gov.uk/media/3630/Chief-Officer-and-Head-of-Service-Responsibilities/pdf/Chief_Officer_and_Head_of_Service_Responsibilities.pdf. It is also my contention that Alistair Stewart failed to "provide appropriate advice" to the Councillors who attempted to call in decision number 16/051, as outlined in Part 8.3 2.1 of the Council's Constitution.
I would be grateful if you would confirm receipt of this complaint, including confirmation that it is valid under section 2.1 of the Corporate Complaints Procedure, and keep me apprised as to the progress of the investigation, including providing me with contact details for the investigating officer(s).
Please do let me know if you have any queries about the nature or detail of the complaint.
20th October - Response from Shepway Complaints, FOI & Street Naming & Numbering Officer
Dear Mr Fuller,
Thank you for your email dated the 13 October 2016.
Your email has been passed to the Monitoring Officer for her consideration.
She will be in contact with you as soon as possible.
24th November - Email sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
Since I made my complaint on 13th October I have received only an automated response and a single update briefly outlining who would be investigating my complaint.
Your CORPORATE COMPLAINTS PROCEDURE states that:
"4. Stage 1 Complaints
If the issue is not something we can resolve immediately as part of our day to day business, it will usually be dealt with it as a stage 1 complaint.
Stage 1 is where we try to resolve the complaint locally within the service that is being complained about. We should aim to resolve the majority of complaints at
stage 1 of the corporate complaints procedure.
4.1 An acknowledgement will be sent by the corporate complaints team within 5 working days advising the customer which manager will be investigating their
4.2 The complaint will be sent to the manager of the relevant service area to investigate and compose a response within 20 working days of the date of receipt
of the complaint. If it is not going to be possible to respond to the stage 1 complaint within 20 working days the Investigating officer must send a holding letter to explain
the reason why. (Appendix C). A copy of the letter should be sent to the corporate complaints team.
(It is good working practice to make direct contact with the complainant to make sure you are clear about the details of the complaint and the possible resolution.)
4.3 The completed signed stage 1 response should be sent electronically to the corporate complaints team for logging onto the system, they will then either post or
e-mail the response to the customer. (Appendix D)"
It has been almost 30 working days since I contacted you. I have received no response from the officer investigating my complaint. I have also received no holding letter to explain any delay in responding. I therefore feel it is appropriate to escalate my original complaint to Stage 2 of the Corporate Complaints Procedure due to the lack of any meaningful response to the complaint.
I would also like to lodge a separate Stage 1 complaint against the Monitoring Officer for failing to comply with the Corporate Complaints Procedure in investigating my complaint.
I would appreciate a timely response to my previous complaint, which is now at Stage 2, and my new complaint, which is at Stage 1.
24th November - Response from Shepway Complaints, FOI & Street Naming & Numbering Officer
Dear Mr Fuller,
Thank you for your email dated 24th November 2016 which is receiving attention.
30th November - Response from Shepway Head of Democratic Services and Law (and the Monitoring Officer)
Dear Cllr Fuller
Thank you for your email below which has been forwarded to me by the complaints officer.
Please note that as mentioned by the complaints officer in her email dated 20th October 2016 your email has been forwarded to me for investigation as the Monitoring Officer for the Council. Your email is not being investigated under the corporate complaints procedure but is being investigated by me as the Monitoring Officer for the Council. I appreciate that this may not have been made clear in the email sent to you on 20th October 2016 and I apologise for any confusion this may have caused.
I am still in the process of investigating the issues you raise in your email dated 13 October 2016 and hope to revert back to you very shortly.
1st December - Email Sent to Shepway Head of Democratic Services and Law (and the Monitoring Officer)
Dear Ms Khroud,
Thank you for your email, but I'm a little nonplussed.
The Council's constitution states that:
7. CITIZENS' RIGHTS
7.3 Citizens have the right to:
n) Complain to the Council about failures in service of any action, or lack of action, by the Council. Complaints should be made under the Council's Corporate Complaints Procedure;
o) Complain to the Ombudsman, if they think the Council has not followed its procedures properly. However, they should only do this after using the Council's own complaints' process;
p) Complain to the Monitoring Officer, if they have evidence which they think shows that a councillor has not followed the Council's Code of Conduct;
It also states that:
ARTICLE 11 - OFFICERS
11.3 Functions of the Monitoring Officer
The Monitoring Officer will operate the Corporate Complaints Procedure and ensure experience learned, from dealing with complaints, is fed into policy and service development.
My complaint very specifically referenced the conduct of Officers and not Councillors with reference to the decision to introduce the Sandgate East CPZ. It was therefore my assumption, when I received the initial response to my complaint, that the Monitoring Officer would be investigating within the remit of operating the Corporate Complaints Procedure.
Are you in fact preparing a report, as per Section 5 of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989, which states:
(2)[F8Subject to subsection (2B),] it shall be the duty of a relevant authority's monitoring officer, if it at any time appears to him that any proposal, decision or omission by the authority, by any committee, [F9or sub-committee of the authority, by any person holding any office or employment under the authority] or by any joint committee on which the authority are represented constitutes, has given rise to or is likely to or would give rise to-
(a)a contravention by the authority, by any committee, [F9or sub-committee of the authority, by any person holding any office or employment under the authority] or by any such joint committee of any enactment or rule of law [F10or of any code of practice made or approved by or under any enactment]; or
(b)any such maladministration or injustice as is mentioned in Part III of the M1Local Government Act 1974 (Local Commissioners) or Part IIof the M2Local Government (Scotland) Act 1975 (which makes corresponding provision for Scotland),
If so, I also not that Section 5 states that:
(5)It shall be the duty of a relevant authority and of any such committee as is mentioned in subsection (4) above-
(a)to consider any report under this section by a monitoring officer or his deputy at a meeting held not more than twenty-one days after copies of the report are first sent to members of the authority or committee; and
(b)without prejudice to any duty imposed by virtue of section 115 of the M4Local Government Finance Act 1988 (duties in respect of conduct involving contraventions of financial obligations) or otherwise, to ensure that no step is taken for giving effect to any proposal or decision to which such a report relates at any time while the implementation of the proposal or decision is suspended in consequence of the report;
and nothing in section 101 of the M5Local Government Act 1972 or in section 56 of [F17, or Schedule 10 or 20 to,] the M6Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 (delegation) shall apply to the duty imposed by virtue of paragraph (a) above.
(6)For the purposes of paragraph (b) of subsection (5) above the implementation of a proposal or decision to which a report under this section relates shall be suspended in consequence of the report until the end of the first business day after the day on which consideration of that report under paragraph (a) of that subsection is concluded.
This would lead me to understand that such a report would require the suspension of the implementation of the CPZ, which to my knowledge has not occurred.
I would be most grateful if you could clarify under what procedure or article of the constitution the investigation is taking place, along with supplying me information as to the process for conducting such an investigation.
Many thanks in advance.
2nd December - Response from Shepway Head of Democratic Services and Law (and the Monitoring Officer)
Dear Mr Fuller
I write further to my email dated 30th November 2016.
I have now had the opportunity of investigated the points you raise in your email dated 13 October 2016.
I would advise that informal consultations were carried out in Jan/Feb 2016. This was done to gauge the views of residents within the proposed zone and aid the design of this scheme. This is not a legal requirement and is purely good practice by the Council. It was found that 87% of respondents indicated support for the proposal.
As part of the legal process to make a TRO, a statutory consultation must be carried out. The procedure for making a TRO is set out in the The Local Authorities' Traffic Orders (Procedure) (England and Wales) Regulations 1996. See link- http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/1996/2489/contents/made. The proposal was advertised in the Folkestone KM papers on the 22nd April. All statutory consultees including Sandgate Parish Council were sent a copy of the proposal notice. Notices were erected on lampposts in the area. The consultation ended on Monday 16 May.
I would ask you to note that the proposal was widely publicised. SDC received 342 emails/letters in total from people in Sandgate, other parts of the district/county, and even London. The decision to proceed with the CPZ was taken by Cllr Dearden after taking into account the representations made and after following the legal process to make the TRO. The link (below) provides the report on the analysis of the formal consultation. It states the number of responses to the formal consultation etc and why the decision was made by the Cabinet Member to make the TRO.
You raise the point about decision number 16/051 not being made available to the public and Councillors in a timely fashion. I do not agree with your comment. I have spoken with committee services and understand that correct procedures have been followed. In fact, due to a slight technical problem with ModGov the deadline for call -in was extended from the original deadline (7 October 2016) until 10th October 2016.
With regards to the issue you raise in relation to call - in I would ask you to note that a valid call in request was not submitted in accordance with the constitution therefore there is no question of the Chief Executive refusing to accept the request for "call in". Whether or not Councillors decide to submit a call in request is a political decision and is not something within the remit/control of officers.
You raise additional points in your email dated 1st December 2016. I would ask you to follow the attached link which will take you to the Council's Customer feedback and Complaints policy - http://intranet.shepway.gov.uk/files/complaints/Customer%20Feeback%20and%20Complaints%20policy%20final%200.2%20July%2016.pdf
The Council defines a complaint as 'an expression of dissatisfaction about a Council service (whether that service is provided directly by the Council or by a contractor or partner) that requires a response'. The issues you are raising are about a legal process which the Council has followed and therefore the issues you raise do not fall within the remit of this policy. Instead, I have investigated this matter as the Monitoring Officer and have outlined my findings above.
I hope the above is of some assistance. I will be closing my file on this matter.