Council gets knuckles rapped and told to apologise
West Berkshire Council has been told to apologise and compensate a community bus charity for failing to carry out a public consultation on cutting its budget.
The council leader has also been singled out in the Local Government Ombudsman’s findings for publishing a video giving the expectation that a public consultation would be carried out.
The complaint was brought by a ‘Mr X’ – no names are published in the reports.
He claimed the cut in funding meant ‘Charity A’ significantly reduced its service to its clients, which impacted on the lives of people with restricted mobility in the district.
The Local Government Ombudsman’s report said: “In relation to the public consultation I am satisfied the council’s consultation policy and the video published on the council’s website by the council leader gave the expectation that a public consultation would happen. Therefore the council was at fault for failing to carry out a public consultation.”
The council was unable to confirm why it decided against carrying out a public consultation at the time as the individuals who made this decision had left the council and not recorded the decision. This was also found to be at fault.
The council’s consultation policy says everyone affected by decisions should have the opportunity to have their views heard.
It carried out a review of its service provision when setting its budget in 2019/2020.
Part of this was to reduce costs for its community transport provision.
The council’s budget for community transport grants was £90,000 and it sought to reduce this by £35,000 to £55,000 per year.
It aimed to re-model the community transport operator grant budgets to achieve this saving
At this time, the council published a video on its website from the council leader about the budget proposals for 2019/2020.
The council leader said: “We are currently consulting on some budget proposals for next year which will impact on frontline services. Before we make our decisions we want to understand what impact they would have on the people who use those services and how that impact might be mitigated.”
The council later said it would be more suitable for the service providers to contact their clients and include customer feedback in their consultation responses, however it did not provide enough time for service providers to consult with their clients.
In response to Charity A’s complaint and enquiries made by the Ombudsman, the council said it felt service users may not be able to engage with a public consultation process as many of them had learning disabilities.
“If this was the council’s reason for not carrying out a public consultation this is concerning as many of Charity A’s clients have mobility issues and not learning disabilities,” said the report.
“In addition, a public consultation could have engaged with the families and carers of those with learning disabilities and to exclude them from this process on the basis they may not understand the process is fault.
“I cannot say on balance whether carrying out a public consultation for the cuts to community transport grants would have changed the council’s view.
“This is because we do not know what the public consultation would have said nor how councillors or officers would have reacted following the results from a public consultation.
"However, based on the evidence Mr X provided, it does lead to uncertainty about what would have happened had the council carried out a public consultation.”
West Berkshire Council has agreed to apologise to Charity A for not carrying out a public consultation on the proposed cuts and pay £300 in recognition of the uncertainty caused.