Pre-appointment hearing for the post of Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman - Public Administration Committee Contents


Report



Background

1. The current Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (the Ombudsman), Ann Abraham, announced her intention to retire on 8 December 2010. We would like to express our gratitude to Ms Abraham for her dedicated and exemplary service and her assistance to this Committee during her period in office.

2. On 29 June 2011 the Prime Minister wrote to inform us that Dame Julie Mellor was the preferred candidate for the post.[1] We held a pre-appointment hearing on 6 July 2011 to examine whether Dame Julie has the professional competences and personal independence necessary to perform this important role.

Selection Process

3. The current incumbent was appointed following an open competition managed by the Cabinet Office: the then Chair of this Committee was a member of the selection panel, but there was no pre-appointment hearing and the appointment was not put to the House of Commons for decision. With the announcement by Ann Abraham that she was standing down we pressed for much greater involvement by Parliament in the selection and appointment process to reflect the parliamentary nature of the post.

4. It was agreed that this time, the recruitment should be managed by the House of Commons Service, and the Chair of this Committee served as a member of the selection panel. Following the outcome of this pre-appointment hearing the Government is expected to find time to table a motion before the summer recess to allow the House of Commons to approve the appointment. We welcome this innovation as a proper reflection of Parliament's direct interest over the appointment of its Ombudsman. We commend Ministers and their officials for facilitating this change which we expect will become the norm for future Ombudsman recruitment exercises.

5. A fuller description of the selection process is in the note provided by the Chair of the selection panel.[2] We found this note extremely helpful in our deliberations and we encourage the Government to provide similar information to select committees in future pre-appointment hearings.

The Role

6. The Ombudsman combines the two statutory roles of Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration (the Parliamentary Ombudsman) and Health Service Commissioner for England (Health Service Ombudsman), whose powers are set out in the Parliamentary Commissioner Act 1967 and the Health Service Commissioners Act 1993 respectively.

7. The Ombudsman assists Parliament to hold the executive to account by considering complaints that government departments, a range of other public bodies in the UK, and the NHS in England, have not acted properly or fairly or have provided a poor service.

8. The Ombudsman currently has two strategic objectives:

i.  To provide an independent, high quality and accessible complaint handling service that rights individual wrongs; and

ii.  To drive improvements in public services and inform public policy.

The Ombudsman is responsible for handling and investigating complaints from MPs and, for the NHS, directly, for the assessment of evidence and for the decisions made in each case. The Ombudsman is solely accountable for the decisions made and in this respect the role is quasi-judicial. Decisions of the Ombudsman are subject to judicial review.

9. The Ombudsman is also responsible for the leadership, governance and management of the office and therefore for the conduct and administration of all work carried out by the staff. The Ombudsman is also the Accounting Officer.

Personal characteristics

10. The advertisement for the post sets out a number of personal characteristics which are necessary for the post holder:

  • Visible and demonstrable impartiality, politically and otherwise;
  • Unquestionable personal integrity;
  • Comfortable in the public eye;
  • Ability to think and act objectively and independently;
  • Commitment to high standards of public administration and public service delivery;
  • A strong sense of what is right and fair;
  • Tenacious and resilient in the face of challenge;
  • Ability to establish personal credibility with senior figures in Parliament, government and the National Health Service, and in the wider administrative justice community in the UK and beyond; and
  • Ability to inspire confidence in Parliament, with the general public and with bodies in jurisdiction.

11. Dame Julie's CV is published at Appendix 3. The job and person specification is published at Appendix 4.

Evidence

12. During the pre-appointment hearing we questioned Dame Julie on a range of issues including:

  • Her experience and suitability for the post;
  • Her ability to demonstrate independence from Government;
  • The Ombudsman's relationship with the Executive;
  • The Ombudsman's relationship with Parliament;
  • The performance of the Ombudsman's Office;
  • The wider public benefit of the Ombudsman's work; and
  • Handling NHS complaints.

Recommendation on appointment

13. We are satisfied that Dame Julie Mellor has both the professional competences and personal independence necessary to fulfil this role. We wish her every success as the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman.



1   Appendix 1 Back

2   Appendix 2 Back


 
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© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 8 July 2011