Body:Public Standards Commissioner
Sector:Scottish Government and Devolved Administration
The complainant (Mr C) complained about the handling by the Public Standards Commissioner (the PSC) of a complaint Mr C had raised concerning the actions of a councillor (the Councillor). Specifically, he complained that the PSC had failed to investigate his complaint adequately and that there were errors in the PSC's Note of Decision which remained uncorrected.
The Scottish Public Services Ombudsman Act 2002 invests in the SPSO powers to investigate the administrative and procedural actions of public bodies in Scotland, including whether there is evidence of service failure. The PSC is a public body which is named within the Act and, therefore, comes within my remit. Given this, I consider the PSC should be open to scrutiny of his administrative and procedural actions by my office in the same way as any other organisation under my jurisdiction. Unfortunately, in practice this has not been the case. I have found the actions of the PSC in response to my enquiries on this complaint and others to be at times obstructive and unhelpful and not what I would expect from a public body. I consider it necessary to take the unusual step of placing on public record the PSC's refusal to cooperate fully with my investigation of this complaint and, in particular, his refusal to release all the information I requested during the course of my enquiries. I do so in this public report.
From the outset and during the course of my investigation the PSC repeatedly questioned my jurisdiction to investigate Mr C's complaint and refused to provide me with all the information I requested, in particular copies of interview notes and a full, unredacted, schedule of those interviewed by his Investigating Officer. Correspondence with the PSC was protracted which severely hampered my investigation and, in addition, caused undue delay in my consideration of Mr C's complaint.
Specific complaints and conclusions
The complaints which have been investigated are that:
- (a) an Investigating Officer (the Investigating Officer) acted unreasonably in accepting the Councillor's testimony without scrutiny (not upheld);
- (b) the Investigating Officer acted unreasonably by failing to conduct interviews with all relevant witnesses (not upheld);
- (c) the Investigating Officer failed to prepare adequately for the interview with Mr C because he was not aware of contemporaneous notes which had been previously provided by Mr C (not upheld);
- (d) the Note of Decision failed to adequately make clear that Councillor X's statement about the Councillor's conduct (at paragraph 4.14) was a statement of opinion, rather than a statement of fact (not upheld);
- (e) the Note of Decision was not objective and made subjective comments, specifically at paragraphs 5.3, 5.4, 5.6 and 5.8 (not upheld);
- (f) the Note of Decision was factually inaccurate at paragraph 5.9 in relation to the date of the meeting and remains uncorrected (upheld).
Redress and recommendations
The Ombudsman recommends that the PSC:
- (i) takes steps to correct the Note of Decision and web summary to record the date of 26 September 2011.
The PSC has accepted this recommendation and has already acted upon it accordingly.
Note: From 1 July 2013 the Commission for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland and its two existing members - the Commissioner for Public Appointments and the Public Standards Commissioner - were restructured to establish one new office of the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland.