Dozens of compaints against councils in North Staffordshire have been upheld by the local government watchdog.
Around 170 complaints and enquiries were made to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman in relation to authorities in the area in 2020/21.
Education and children’s services accounted for more than a third of these, much more than any other service area, in line with the national trend.
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Eight complaints made about Stoke-on-Trent City Council were upheld, while two were not upheld.
This equates to an uphold rate of 80 per cent, compared to the average rate of 63 per cent for similar authorities.
The city council also saw 16 cases referred back for local resolution, while 19 were closed after initial inquiries.
Staffordshire County Council, meanwhile, saw 37 complaints upheld and seven not upheld – an uphold rate of 84 per cent, compared to 71 per cent for similar authorities.
The county council had 27 complaints referred back for local resolution, with 27 being closed after initial inquiries.
A total of 57 complaints and inquiries were made about the city council last year, including 22 relating to education and children’s services, seven relating to benefits and tax, and seven relating to housing.
Staffordshire County Council had 100 complaints and inquiries, including 43 relating to education and children’s services, 30 relating to adult social care and 16 relating to highways and transport.
Alan White, leader of Staffordshire County Council, believes the number of complaints made about the authority has to be taken in context.
He said: “We provide millions of pounds worth of services to hundreds of thousands of residents every year, so the number of complaints we receive remains a tiny proportion to the amount of work we do.
“We always try to get it right and when we don’t – as is the case with these 37 complaints – we take those complaints seriously, and we look to learn any lessons and improve.”
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There were 10 complaints or inquiries relating to Newcastle Borough Council, with one being upheld and none not upheld. Staffordshire Moorlands District Council had nine complaints or inquiries, none of which were upheld or not upheld.
Across the West Midlands region, 76 per cent of complaints were upheld, up from 66 per cent last year – the biggest increase nationwide.
The service area that saw the most complaints (22 per cent), and the highest uphold rate (83 per cent) was children and education.
Investigations carried out by the ombudsman resulted in 3,104 recommendations to put things right for individuals, and 1,488 recommendations to improve services for others, such as by revising procedures and training staff.
The LGO says an increasing proportion of recommendations relate to service improvements, suggesting that investigators are uncovering more ‘systemic problems’ as opposed to one-off mistakes.
Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said: “We’ve been issuing our annual reviews for the past seven years now, and while every year has seen its challenges, this year seems to have been the most difficult for local authorities.
“While the way local authorities dealt with the pressures of Covid-19 is still being played out in our casework, early indications suggest it is only widening the cracks that were already there, and has deepened our concerns about the status of complaints services within councils. These concerns are not new and cannot be wholly attributed to the trials of the pandemic.
“I am concerned about the general erosion to the visibility, capacity, and status of complaint functions within councils.
“Listening to public complaints is an essential part of a well-run and properly accountable local authority, committed to public engagement, learning, and improvement. I know the best councils still understand this and put local democracy and good complaints handling at the forefront of their services.”