A FORMER leader and deputy leader of Powys County Council have received an apology and £1,000 after The Public Services Ombudsman for Wales upheld a complaint they made against the authority.

Both former councillors Barry Thomas, and Graham Brown, stood down at the council elections in May 2017.

But a few months later, after a critical inspection report into children’s services, they were criticised at a full council meeting on October 18, 2017, by the authority's then-chief executive Jeremy Patterson.

A few days later, Mr Patterson went off sick and left the council in September 2018.

The duo complained about the comments, which related to "support and clarity" in the wake of the inspection report, and it was upheld by the ombudsman in December 2018.

But a second complaint about how the investigation was handled – which has taken two years to resolve.

The report by ombudsman Nick Bennett, which refers to the councillors as Mr X and Mr Y, was completed in March but because of the coronavirus pandemic has only now been made been published and made public.

County Times:

Mr Bennett said: “They complained about the delay in having their concerns investigated. Mr X and Mr Y received a response after a 'significant delay' on February 28, 2019.

“It showed their concerns had not been investigated properly or professionally, and that the officer who had conducted it, a solicitor at the council, had a close working relationship with the former chief executive.

“Therefore, they said he could not have undertaken it objectively.”

He found that Mr X and Mr Y’s concerns had been considered in a “muddled way”, having initially not been dealt with under the corporate complaints policy.

This led to the significant delay in completing the investigation.

Mr Bennett continued: “Furthermore, the solicitor charged with undertaking it was an inappropriate choice given he had been highlighted in the original complaint as potentially being a witness to relevant events, and so there was a potential conflict of interest.”

The council's policy allowed for “serious” matters to be investigated by someone outside the council – and Mr Bennett felt that a complaint against the council’s most senior officer was serious.

Mr Bennett found that no contemporaneous record of the meeting between the solicitor and Mr Patterson as part of the complaint investigation had been made.

Mr Bennett found this to be poor practice in complaint handling and to be “maladministration”and so upheld the complaint.

PCC has accepted the ombudsman’s recommendations to apologise to both Mr X and Mr Y and to offer both a payment of £1,000 in recognition of the distress caused by the serious failings in complaint handling.”

They have also also agreed to review its policy giving particular consideration as to when an independent investigator should be appointed.

A spokesman for Powys County Council, said: “I can confirm the council has sent a letter of apology and paid what the ombudsman recommended.”

Following the outcome of the case, Mr Thomas, from Llangyniew, said: “We’re pleased that we have had the apology and our names are cleared, it is some comfort.

“We have acknowledged the payment, even awarding us £1 would have shown that we were in the right.

“We were criticised and should have been allowed a right to reply.”

He said that PCC would also need to pay £250 to both following the first complaint into the issue which was upheld in by the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales in  December 2018.

Mr Thomas now believes that the report should be looked at by either the Standards, Democratic or Audit committee.

This so that councillors can digest the contents of the report and learn lessons, so it doesn’t happen again.

Mr Brown from Llandrinio, said: “We’re disappointed with the way this was handled.

“They have apologised privately but stayed silent on a public apology.

“Things need to change so that others former councillors are not being unfairly used as scapegoats without a right of reply

“This could have been sorted out very quickly, there could have been an apology and a retraction at the next full council meeting in January 2018.

“Everyone would have saved a lot of time, energy and money.”