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Taking Account of the Cost?

A Council in Lincolnshire was the subject of a report by the Local Government Ombudsman which found maladministration against the authority. The complaint arose from the way the Council dealt with the development of a residential site in its capacity as the planning authority.

Due to the serious nature of the maladministration the remedy proposed by the Ombudsman was a written apology and compensation of over £250,000.

The report and recommendation were considered by the Council on three separate occasions, on the first two occasions the Council refused to accept the remedy proposed by the Ombudsman.

After the second meeting the complainant was informed that the Council did not accept the proposed remedy, it commenced judicial review against the Council to challenge their consideration of the report.

Acting on the advice of Counsel, the Council agreed to consider the report afresh at a third meeting, with a report from its Chief Executive and a note on the Council's financial position. The note outlined the financial challenges facing the Council, the need for further savings, its constrained capital programme, and reviewed its other financial resources.

At the meeting the Council decided to accept the finding of maladministration and to make a payment of £50,000 to the complainant taking into account:-

  • Seriousness of the findings
  • Information in the financial note and the affordability of the proposed remedy

A further report was prepared for the full Council meeting and it confirmed the earlier decision.

The judicial review was based on four grounds:-

  • Inadequate reasons for the decision
  • Excessive weight given to affordability and failure to consider other relevant considerations
  • Unfairness
  • Pre-determination

All grounds were dismissed.

Of particular interest is the approach to decision making, the court found that the reasons given were adequate, but more importantly that due to the financial constraints on the Council, it was justified in attaching great weight to take affordability of the remedy into account in reaching a decision.

It is an interesting decision in light of the financial position many councils find themselves in. It demonstrates that with a rational structure, robust decisions can be made, taking into account valid considerations.