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Complaints over city councillors a national high

By South Wales Evening Post  |  Posted: October 28, 2011

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OMBUDSMAN complaints against Swansea councillors are the highest in Wales so far this year.

Between April 1 and September 30 this year, 11 code of conduct complaints were received by the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales.

However, none were upheld, with the Ombudsman either choosing not to investigate (seven) or discontinue (one). Three cases are currently open.

Three complaints were against Chris Holley, council leader, two of which were not upheld while one which is still being investigated.

The open complaint against Mr Holley was made by Tory group leader councillor Rene Kinzett.

Deputy council leader John Hague is also subject of the complaint, as is Mr Kinzett's fellow Tory councillor Paxton Hood-Williams.

He said the case was over alleged discussions about support for the ruling Lib-Dem coalition — in particular giving extra spending to projects in certain Conservative wards.

Mr Kinzett said: "My group is not for sale. We do not enter into any deals or pacts with any other parties in Swansea and we fight for every vote and speak up for all communities.

"The Welsh Conservatives expect the highest standards in ethical and professional behaviour from our councillors and we do not treat breaches of the code lightly."

He said that when news of the alleged discussions between the council leader and his group came to his knowledge, "I immediately took action to close down any further communications and referred the matter to the head of legal services and the chief executive of Swansea Council".

"Allegations about the spending of public monies in return for political support or electoral pacts are very serious matters indeed and I can assure the public that as leader of the Conservatives in Swansea I find such proposals completely and utterly unacceptable, regardless of which party the councillors taking part in these discussions are from."

David Phillips, leader of the Labour group, said: "I do not know what the previous complaints were about, so I cannot say whether the Ombudsman's decisions were correct."

Mr Phillips said the matter must be investigated "quickly and exhaustively" , adding: "It is vital to maintain the highest levels of probity if we are to retain public confidence."

In comparison one complaint was received in relation to Carmarthenshire Council and not one regarding Neath Port Talbot since April. In 2010/11 Swansea was the subject of 12 complaints, Neath Port Talbot had two and Carmarthenshire had four complaints.

In Swansea eight complaints were not investigated, two were discontinued and two were withdrawn.

Five were complaints against Mr Holley and in each case a decision was taken by the Ombudsman not to investigate.

Mr Holley, who cannot comment on the current complaint, said of previous decisions: "The administration has seen Swansea improve consistently.

"Because they (opponents) can't attack the policies, they have to find something else to attack. Obviously I'm pleased no complaints have been upheld."

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  • GarethPJones  |  October 30 2011, 5:46PM

    Most of these complaints appear to be by councillors against opposing councillors, trying to score cheap points rather than expose bad behaviour. The current complaint against Chris Holley, John Hague and Paxton Hood-Williams comes from Rene Kinzett, who appears to have lost his Mayals council seat to a rival; although a serious allegation which needs to be investigated, it could be more about infighting within the Tory council group than wrong doing.

  • MattSamms  |  October 28 2011, 11:47AM

    Does it matter that the original complaint came from another councillor? Rene Kinzett is quoted as saying 'I immediately took action to close down any further communications and referred the matter to the head of legal services and the chief executive of Swansea Council'. The fact that he even implicated a member of his own party shows that the matter was a serious one.

  • andybeacham  |  October 28 2011, 9:54AM

    Excuse me, but isn't Chris Holley the same individual who made an ombudsman complaint against 32 opposition councillors because they wanted to have a debate on a controversial e-government fiasco held in public instead of behind closed doors? I'm told the investigation that followed saw nearly a hundred interviews and is estimated to have cost over £200,000 before it was revealed that the accusations were legally flawed. So much for steady improvement

  • Sandson  |  October 28 2011, 9:17AM

    The difference in this instance Is that it is the council's own CHIEF EXECUTIVE who reported the leader, deputy leader and another senior councillor to the ombudsman. He must have been clear in his own mind that misconduct was involved before taking such action. This is not a case of political tit-for-tat and it is misleading for this article to give that impression.