A RISE in the number of complaints against Oxfordshire's county council is a 'concern' to senior staff and elected leaders.

In the 2019-20 year, a total of 16 complaints were upheld against Oxfordshire County Council by the local government ombudsman; an increase from 9 in the previous financial year.

Many of the complaints levelled against the council were in areas relating to social care and education for children, with one councillor warning they represented the 'tip of an iceberg'.

Oxfordshire County Council's audit and governance committee reviewed complaints which the ombudsman had upheld over the last year on Wednesday.

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At the meeting, the council's interim monitoring officer Steve Jorden, who is tasked with making sure the council acts properly, described what the increase in upheld complaints meant for Oxfordshire.

Mr Jorden said: "Certainly this is a bit concerning"; and described the report as a 'tale of two sides'.

The senior staff member added his view was sometimes the council did not 'respond to complaints in the way we should do in the first instance', and said a more understanding, less defensive approach to complaints was needed to bring the number down next year.

He also highlighted how 97 per cent of the complaints were resolved internally by the council without the ombudsman having to step in to take charge.

Glenn Watson, another council staff member from the Democratic Services department added that in the 'league table' of councils which had complaints against them, Oxfordshire was relatively near the bottom with its 16 upheld problems.

He said: "There are some who have 30, 40 or 50 upheld."

But he also added the council needed to consider 'our standards and the services we want for our residents'.

Committee member Paul Buckley said he was concerned about the number of complaints which related to children and young people's social care.

Mr Buckley said: "This is a big message for the council: we are going to have to do something to address this. What came to the ombudsman is the tip of an iceberg. The iceberg is caused by problems we are having with special educational needs."

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In one complaint which required public scrutiny by the council's cabinet earlier this year, a child had no schooling for 18 months after the council 'failed in its statutory duty to arrange suitable education' after she stopped attending school, among other problems.

This was remedied with a financial settlement to the family and an audit to find out if other children had missed school over the same period of time.

Other complaints related to children missing out on education health and care plans, legal documents which set out how their special needs or disabilities should be catered for in the classroom. And three joint complaints were about organising transport for children to get to school.

Overall in 2019-20, the council received a total of 532 complaints, of which the 16 upheld were found to be valid.