Communities and Local Government - Minutes of EvidenceHC 431

Back to Report

Oral Evidence

Taken before the Communities and Local Government Committee

on Monday 23 April 2012

Members present:

Mr Clive Betts (Chair)

Bob Blackman

Simon Danczuk

David Heyes

George Hollingbery

Mark Pawsey

Heather Wheeler

________________

Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Guy Crivello, Managing Director, Care for Community Living Ltd, Brian Thompson, University of Liverpool, and Robert Murrow gave evidence.

Q1 Chair: Good afternoon. Welcome, all of you, to the first evidence session of the Committee’s inquiry into the annual report of the Local Government Ombudsman for England. For the sake of our records, please say who you are and the organisations you represent.

Guy Crivello: My name is Guy Crivello. I work for Care for Community Living, a small south London charity.

Brian Thompson: My name is Brian Thompson. I am a senior lecturer in the School of Law at the University of Liverpool.

Robert Murrow: My name is Robert Murrow. I am appearing here in a personal capacity as a representative of an informal group of parents, all of whom have been complainants to the Local Government Ombudsman in relation to the work of local authorities in their provision of special educational needs education to children.

Q2 Chair: Thank you for the written evidence you have supplied to us and also for coming this afternoon. At the beginning, let me make a statement about the scope of the evidence we are going to take. First, as the Committee made clear when it issued a call for evidence, it shall not be examining or reviewing individual cases. Second, I understand that two of the witnesses today have live cases before the Ombudsman. We are not examining those cases, nor would we expect to hear anything about them in this evidence session. Nothing in the proceedings today can or should be taken as having any bearing on the outcome of those cases. If we all understand that, and if we can proceed on that basis when we talk about the general issues of concern that will be helpful to all of us. Thank you very much. In written evidence we have had some quite severe criticism of the Local Government Ombudsman. For example, LGO Watch and Public Service Ombudsman Watchers call the LGO "the most perverse and publicly criticised system of administrative justice in the world". That is a bit sweeping, isn’t it? Is it not a bit far-fetched? Do you agree with that?

Guy Crivello: If you go back to the OECD report of 2006, which looks at conflict of interest and standards in public life across the European spectrum and North America as well, there are systemic problems with the LGO service that certainly would not give it a clean bill of health.

Brian Thompson: I think that is quite sweeping. There may be particular instances in which an organisation does not live up to the standards it would like to, but that is very strong criticism.

Q3 Chair: You would not go as far as that.

Brian Thompson: I certainly would not.

Chair: In due course we will probably come to some of the criticisms that you do have.

Robert Murrow: I have no claim to having any overview of the work of the Ombudsman, so I am not going to pretend that I do. I will say, however, that particularly parents of children with special educational needs are communicating with one another and raising significant concerns about a number of common themes about the way complaints are handled. Save for that very small statement, I do not think I can say anything else.

Q4 Chair: When we look at a service like the Ombudsman, I suppose there is a danger similar to that faced when people come to complain to Members of Parliament: you can be either a good Member of Parliament who sorts out the problem or a bad one who does not. To an extent it is the same with the Ombudsman, isn’t it? People take against the service when it cannot resolve problems that sometimes are unresolvable. Is that not the fundamental difficulty here? We get criticism that is related to matters that cannot be sorted out and, therefore, the Ombudsman is blamed for not sorting them out?

Guy Crivello: I think that is a valid point. There is always a case of sour grapes when somebody does not have a decision that goes their way. I imagine that the bulk of bad feeling stems from that rather than the systemic problems to which I will be referring. I do, however, think there are genuine systemic problems and, rather than the really adverse criticism with which you led, there is a constructive way to address them.

Brian Thompson: One of the problems might well be that people generally do not understand the remit of the Ombudsman and therefore they may come in with expectations that cannot be fulfilled. It should be the Ombudsman’s role to make clear what they can and cannot do, but that will be part of the reason that people will be dissatisfied, as well as the general outcome effect. If they do not get the outcome they would like, they will not be happy with the service they have received.

Robert Murrow: It is fundamental, isn’t it, that a complainant who has not received the outcome they like will be disgruntled and will share their displeasure with others? It would not necessarily be constructive to dismiss complainants simply because they are disgruntled as a consequence of outcomes not being as they would wish. We identify some difficulties with process as well, which I think deserve looking into.

Chair: Perhaps we may come to what improvements might be made.

Q5 Heather Wheeler: I am almost giving you the floor-if you were to design a new Ombudsman service from scratch, how do you think you would structure it, and what would it look like? For example, do you think that the Local Government Ombudsman operates at a different level from the Parliamentary Ombudsman and Housing Ombudsman? Could they be wrapped up together?

Brian Thompson: That was something that was looked at in 2000. A Cabinet Office report looked at a public services Ombudsman in England. Part of the problem with it was that it was the very early days of devolution and they did not fully recognise that the Parliamentary Ombudsman has jurisdiction in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. That makes it slightly different; it is more than just England.

There certainly could be ways in which one might be able to join things up differently. The Law Commission has suggested that that ought to be done and that there should be a wider inquiry into how Ombudsmen and administrative justice is dealt with, because there are different configurations. You can devise them according to different criteria, but they could be looked at. As I said in my evidence, there is policy fragmentation in this area, and I suggest it needs to be looked at in the round.

Guy Crivello: I can add to that inasmuch as to say there is fragmentation of the service. There are also different statutory provisions covering different areas of the Ombudsmen’s work. Obviously, that would apply if you extended that remit to cover other areas. A serious consideration here is that there needs to be a consistent statutory framework. Going back to the concept of people’s expectations, where they are informed those will sit alongside what they can glean from the statutory provisions in front of them. One of the additional problems involves the public, in that wading their way through that patchwork of Acts is beyond the ability of most people. That is a consideration when extending the remit of the LGO.

Robert Murrow: I have nothing to say on that.

Q6 Heather Wheeler: Following on from that slightly, because of all the different statutes involved do you think the sensible outcome would be to merge them all and have only one Ombudsman? We have evidence before us that the Parliamentary Ombudsman and LGO have looked at one case and come to two different conclusions.

Guy Crivello: If we look, say, at the work of councils, you have 60 DCLGowned statutes from perhaps 200 different acts that apply to councils, and if we go to other Government Departments we are looking at well over 1,000 different individual statutes. I think there is a problem in that if you have one cohesive system you will want to have one cohesive statutory set of provisions governing it.

Brian Thompson: I think it might be difficult. For example, in my research we looked at Australia where you have a proper federal system. At state level you have an Ombudsman that would be a bit like the Local Government Ombudsman, but it would also be dealing with state governmental features. That would mean state police and state prisons as well as social care and education. That might work because of the size of population. For England, it might be more difficult. I think it can work in Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Whether you can do it on a regional basis and divide it up that way, I do not know, but we do have differences. There is the Independent Police Complaints Commission; you have an Ombudsman that is not really an Ombudsman, which is the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman. That is why in my evidence I suggest there needs to be an inquiry in the round to look at it. It is quite big.

Q7 Mark Pawsey: I want to ask some questions about how we got to where we are and how we move forward. Probably the technical questions are for Mr Thompson. Prior to 1974 I understand there was not a Local Government Ombudsman service. What happened then? You mentioned there was a report in 2000. There are changes in the structure of local government; powers are to be given to mayors; we have had substantial devolution, even since 2000. Do you think it is time for another review? First, can you give us the background?

Brian Thompson: You started with the Parliamentary Ombudsman in 1967, then you had the Health Service Ombudsman in 1973-74, and then in England you got the Local Government Ombudsman.

Q8 Mark Pawsey: But what happened if someone wished to complain about the activities of local government prior to that date?

Brian Thompson: They could have complained to the local authority itself or to a councillor. The original idea behind the Ombudsman in the UK was that it supplemented going to political representatives and it operated in situations where you could not really go to the court. The Ombudsman was conceived as filling a gap between political redress and legal redress not quite working and, as a consequence, it does cover both.

Q9 Mark Pawsey: Has it done its job?

Brian Thompson: It has made a contribution, absolutely, but clearly no institution is perfect.

Q10 Mark Pawsey: I suppose the question to the other two witnesses is whether you think it has done its job.

Guy Crivello: My experience goes back to the mid-1990s. If that job is the improvement of complaints handling in local authorities, the answer is a resounding no.

Robert Murrow: I think I can echo that sentiment.

Q11 Mark Pawsey: Moving forward, what changes need to take place in the service to reflect the changes in local government?

Brian Thompson: There is a difficulty, in that what we have seen is that public bodies no longer deliver public services solely; there are partnership arrangements, and you have to make sure you can deal with that. For example, one thing that has happened with the Local Government Ombudsman is that they have been given responsibility to deal with complaints from privately funded social care, so that is going beyond something that is administered by local authorities. I suspect that is something that might continue. You might think they have expertise and, because they deal with children’s and adult publicly funded social care, it would make sense to give them that jurisdiction, even though it is not a local government service.

Q12 Mark Pawsey: Earlier you referred to what happens in Australia. Clearly, it is entirely different geography; the population is of a different size. Are there any countries of similar size and geography to the UK where they have such a service from which we could learn lessons?

Brian Thompson: I think everybody is different. France has a similar sort of population but it is organised differently. In Germany you do not have a national Ombudsman; you have it at the level of the Länder, so I am afraid everybody does their own thing.

Q13 George Hollingbery: Mr Crivello, you have written that there "is the lack of a clear and contiguous statutory framework governing the entire complaints system", and you have picked up various other bits and bobs, such as that there does not seem to be any requirement on councillors to reply in a reasonable way, or within a time limit, and it is difficult to get judicial review, which is the only way to challenge the Local Government Ombudsman. Do you have evidence to hand that the existing framework is inadequate?

Guy Crivello: I can give an example of it that we have just discussed. A lot of the function that is transferred from local authorities has now ended up in the voluntary and third sector. Charities run those things. Therefore, we have the inclusion of what you can call corporate complaints. I think it is reasonable to suggest that for a great many dealing with mental health, children’s services and such like, a lot of the time an organisation may act as an advocate for an individual filing a complaint. Most people would believe that under the Public Disclosures Act and the 2009 regulations for the NHS and local authorities there was a compulsion to deal with whistleblowing complaints, public disclosures or serious matters in adult social care. When those are made by what is called a responsible body, such as an independent charity, they are exempt from these rulings.

The Local Authority Social Service and National Health Service Complaints Regulations is a good example of this. It gives the exemptions, and notes in paragraph 22, schedule 1, that a responsible body means "a local authority, NHS body, primary care provider or independent provider". These are exemptions from the compulsion to answer complaints at the local authority level, and that is reflected in the LGO’s work if she has to rule on maladministration of, say, a whistleblowing complaint that was suppressed. Similarly, where somebody is an employee of a council and has cover in making a public disclosure, as far as I am aware the same protection is not extended to a referral to the LGO, and the council is at liberty to carry on doing what it was doing in the first place as far as concerns the whistleblower.

Q14 George Hollingbery: Can you tell me what the brave new world looks like? I am giving you the role of the Government in writing the framework. What would it look like?

Guy Crivello: I certainly would patch up these kinds of vagaries. Even if you look at the mission statement of the LGO, which has been changed just recently, in terms of a local authority the position on corporate complaints is not clear at all. It refers to the procurement of services, but where there might be a public disclosure it is not clear that these can be handled. I would certainly attend to those exemptions. Under the law it is possible for local authorities and the LGO to redefine a complaint to bring in contractual elements with other elements so that something can be exempted. I suppose the first thing I would do, if we keep the current set-up-

Q15 George Hollingbery: Let’s be a little more adventurous; stand back and rewrite the whole thing. What are you going to do?

Guy Crivello: If I were redoing the whole thing, quite simply I would have a citizens court and a citizens jury looking at public complaints.

Q16 George Hollingbery: Is it possible to model something round the Local Government Ombudsman function as it currently is that looks a bit like that?

Guy Crivello: There may be something along the lines of the Tribunals Service for employment law. My main problem-of many-is that the work is conducted in private. We have just had the Prime Minister explaining why certain types of cases have to be held in private because items of national interest are at stake. I do not think there is the same level of national interest involved in these types of complaints; these are about public authorities and their work. I do not see the need for this work to always be conducted in private. It would be better to have a tribunal system.

Q17 George Hollingbery: It would be a mini-court, or quasi-court, of some sort, open and in public, just like you would expect from a regular court. Others like LGO Watch and Public Service Ombudsman Watchers have suggested something similar. Is that your ideal?

Guy Crivello: I think so. That would certainly cover every criticism I have of the current system.

Q18 George Hollingbery: Would it have the power to compel authorities to reply in a certain time?

Guy Crivello: Yes. Theoretically, there are time limits for local authorities to reply, but my experience over the years is that those are not rigorously enforced. A great deal of latitude is given in terms of what is called a complex case. You can be two and a half years into a case and just be told that it is very difficult to get this information; the local authority has to work very hard to get it. I would certainly have far more rigorously enforced time limits.

Q19 George Hollingbery: Is that a fault of the system or the current incumbents of the system?

Guy Crivello: I think the big problem in the system at the moment is that in place of a set of statutory procedures what you have is the Ombudsman’s discretion. We can come back to the Local Government Act where I think it is just a sentence in one paragraph: she may conduct the investigation and articulate or define maladministration as she sees fit. That leaves an awful lot of latitude. We have in the mission statement a number of fairly aspirational statements, but if they are not backed up by a statutory requirement to conduct an investigation in this way it is misleading for complainants. They might think they have a degree of protection when an investigation is not conducted in this way, which they do not in fact have. When you come to judicial review, often what happens is that a barrister will say that you have a very limited amount of challenge to the LGO because of this discretion.

Q20 George Hollingbery: It is said there really is not a problem with the system because there are no successful judicial reviews. The reason I suspect there are no successful judicial reviews is that there are so few set-down procedures to get wrong, or so few rules, that it is very difficult to prove that the job has not been done correctly. Is that a correct impression?

Guy Crivello: That is correct. In the final analysis, it is possible to have the LGO go back and do an investigation again. The cost of that, in my experience, is up to £60,000.

Q21 George Hollingbery: Do you have anything to add on this?

Brian Thompson: I do not know very much about this particular area of whistle-blowing, but it raises the very good point: what sorts of things do you want the Local Government Ombudsman to deal with? What sorts of disputes might be better dealt with in other fora? As to the idea that we start giving things over to tribunals, the Ombudsman is an alternative tribunal for a very good reason.

Another thing is that the way in which Ombudsmen now work is to try to resolve disputes as quickly as possible. Therefore, the great majority of cases will not lead to a full investigation. That is expensive and they will do that when they think that there is something rather more systemic and that it will be worth their while, but if you wanted all that type of thing you would have to pay an awful lot more in terms of resources to be able to conduct that sort of work.

Q22 George Hollingbery: Let me ask you directly: do you feel the current statutory framework is adequate?

Brian Thompson: No; I think it needs to be changed, but it needs to be looked at in a much wider context. You keep looking at one thing and then it knocks on to something else.

Q23 George Hollingbery: Do you have anything to add?

Robert Murrow: I would be reticent to recommend a tribunal system in place of the Ombudsman. One of the purported attractions of an Ombudsman to consider complaints by private individuals against local authorities is the fact that it is supposedly accessible and supposedly much less formal than even the tribunal system. That is very valuable to private individuals who do not necessarily want to become engaged in more protracted, drawn out, formal and costly methods of dispute resolution. My concern is that there is no transparency. If you are to have an inquisitorial or mediation-style system, which the Ombudsman appears in part to be on some occasions and not others, there needs to be a greater degree of transparency as to how investigations are conducted.

Q24 Chair: Presumably, a move to a tribunal system would mean we would have judgments which were enforceable. Is not one of the bases of Ombudsman judgments or conclusions they reach at present that they are not enforceable; they are encouragements to local authorities to put right a wrong?

Brian Thompson: They are recommendations, and that is the system not just in this country with the public services Ombudsmen but other countries as well. In that sense it is public and political pressure that might lead a public body that has been found to have committed maladministration and injustice to remedy it.

Q25 Mark Pawsey: That begs the question: when there are recommendations are they always accepted by the body complained against?

Brian Thompson: Mostly.

Q26 Mark Pawsey: Can you put it in percentage terms?

Brian Thompson: It is in the high 90s.

Guy Crivello: On the question of cost, which is an important one, my experience has been that the LGO becomes ever more reliant on external professional legal advice. My cost in one case, and a fairly straightforward one at that, over two and half years was £60,000. I would ask what the LGO’s legal costs are with their professional advisers. At the end of the day, I do not think it is cheaper for a member of the public to engage with the LGO than to go to a JR. My experience has been that for the same cost it is easier to go directly to court.

Brian Thompson: The point is that if you go to the court for a JR, the remedy you will get is a very different one from the remedy you get from the Ombudsman because, as has been said, maladministration is a very elastic concept. That can be a good or bad thing, but it was deliberately left undefined in the legislation so that it could grow; it could be an organic thing. It is more than simply a breach of the law. If it is really a breach of the law you go to a court or tribunal. It can encompass that, but that is not their role. While they are institutions of justice, they are not determining the law. That is not their role.

Q27 David Heyes: Several of the submissions made to us have made the point that the majority of staff who work for the Local Government Ombudsman are from a local government background. I think Mr Crivello referred to a lack of rigour. The perception is that that leads to a kind of institutional bias in favour of the local authority. I just want to sound you out on that, starting perhaps with Mr Thompson. Is that a fair criticism to make? Is it an accurate perception?

Brian Thompson: It is very difficult to say whether or not people’s perceptions are accurate. There is wider recruitment in the LGO than there used to be. They are employing people from other backgrounds; that is, people from advice backgrounds and sometimes people with legal qualifications who have not worked in local authorities, but inevitably it will be useful to have some people who have that experience. It is difficult to say whether those who are complaining feel that, having come from that background, they can, as it were, step back from it and be the independent and impartial investigators that they are expected to be. One assumes that is what they are trying to do, but it is a problem.

Robert Murrow: Among the complainants with whom I have communicated, there is a perception of bias. I do not think anyone is implying malice, but there is a suggestion that, wherever the investigators’ and staff’s previous experience is, they appear to be much more sympathetic-this is an experience common to a lot of complainants, particularly in the SEN arena-towards the local authority view.

There was one thing Mr Thompson said that I found quite interesting. By way of example, he said the Ombudsman was not supposed to be an adjudicator on legal issues, but in the SEN arena-apart from JR, which is very limited in terms of time-it is the only way in which one can seek to hold a local authority to account where it has failed in its statutory duty under the Education Act to provide the correct education to a child, as has been ordered by a special educational needs and disability tribunal. I am being a little tangential, but this is really the only forum parents can go to in order to seek justice in the traditional legal sense. Yet the investigator, when presented with irrefutable evidence, often not even denied by the local authority, that the local authority has not kept to its statutory duty, still fails to find maladministration. It still says, "The council really ought to have done this. It has a nondelegable statutory duty to do this. It did not do it because it is a bit tough, so that is okay", if you will forgive me for being colloquial. That is an experience parents have again and again. There is no "best endeavours" defence to not arranging educational provision, and yet the Local Government Ombudsman is saying, "They really should have done it. Even though it is illegal, it doesn’t really matter." That is depriving complainants, such as the people with whom I have communicated, of the means of seeking any redress.

Q28 David Heyes: You make that point very well. To what extent do you think that scenario is the result of an institutional bias that might arise as a result of being too comfortable with local government?

Robert Murrow: It is not possible to say. The reason I decided to draw out that example is that the impression we have gained, again and again, is that investigators have consistently and repeatedly, in delivering decisions, sided with local authorities. It is subjective; I acknowledge that we are talking about a disgruntled group of complainants, but decisions are not being made objectively.

Q29 David Heyes: Is there institutional bias?

Guy Crivello: I think that when the LGO started back in the 1970s it was dealing exclusively with the sort of complaints where it was a very good idea to have experience of local government, not to preside over or to adjudicate over but to engage in these matters. As the LGO’s remit has expanded, there is a far more complex range of statutory engagement. I think that in itself is a problem that requires a wider field of expertise, and if that is happening it is definitely a good sign. In terms of the potential for perception, which is a very important thing when it comes to standards-many reports would reflect that-there is a degree of exchange of personnel between the LGO service and local authorities on occasion. Somebody may come on secondment to act as an independent adjudicator, for example, and also the LGO provides training for councils. A reasonable person might think that it is going to be difficult for an LGO to provide a very harsh ruling over people they have trained, or when one of their officers is in situ on that council.

Q30 David Heyes: Mr Crivello, one of your criticisms of the way LGO handles evidence is that it is "distinctly un-forensic".

Guy Crivello: Yes, it is.

Q31 David Heyes: On what is that based?

Guy Crivello: In terms of the exchange of information, we have had things cited which have no references whatsoever. Again and again, you get terms like, "The council’s officers feel" or "the council have said". When we are submitting evidence we give specific references of the type you will be able to replicate and use in court, not hearsay. That occurs again and again within reports.

Q32 David Heyes: What are the consequences of that?

Guy Crivello: The consequences are that it is very difficult to rebut what the person is saying. If the LGO are telling you it is all fine because they have been told by the local authority that they did in fact do something, you might ask when they did it, who did it and whether there is any record to show that, or whether they are just taking an assurance. It is the validation of the evidence put before the LGO and the ability of the complainant to crossexamine it that I think is distinctly un-forensic.

Q33 David Heyes: My last question I put to each of you. Should there be a right of appeal against the decision of the Local Government Ombudsman?

Guy Crivello: I think there is a right of appeal. At the end of the day, it is a convoluted matter. We have had a case where we have gone through it for a year; we have had the provisional rulings of an LGO and we have rebutted those. They have not paid any attention to it. The ruling has been given and we have had to engage a barrister. We have then given a point-by-point forensic breakdown of the case, and the LGO has gone off and said she will take the case and do it again. That is an awful waste of time, but it suggests to me that, if you have the legal cover and the legal backing, you can get some sort of appeal with her; otherwise, the appeal is a judicial review.

Q34 David Heyes: The tenet of my question is a right of appeal that does not require recourse to a court of law. Do you think there is space for that?

Brian Thompson: That is difficult, because the whole point of the Ombudsman service in all areas is that it is meant to be accessed after the complainant has engaged with the body that caused the difficulty. In that sense it is meant to be the top of the complaints ladder. Obviously, there has to be finality and people can make a judgment as to where they think that would be, but the Ombudsman is meant to be the final point, subject to law-so there is the possibility of judicial review, but clearly that will not be possible for everybody who feels disgruntled because they will not be able to afford it. But if you start to do that you are really changing the system, because there has to be a final point and where do you draw that?

Q35 David Heyes: So, there is no Ombudsman for the Ombudsman.

Brian Thompson: It just goes on and on.

Robert Murrow: I think there should be a right of appeal. One of the contributors to the submissions that Debbie Sayers and myself made to the Committee had a particular experience where informally requesting review of a provisional decision of an Ombudsman was met with the assurance that the decision would be reviewed but it would be reviewed by somebody from whom they had already taken soundings, so it would be unlikely to be any different. That strikes me as a particularly ridiculous half-way house; you are going through the motions of reviewing a decision but inviting somebody who has had considerable input into it to review it. I take Mr Thompson’s point as to finality and the requirement for finality. There needs to be finality, and there is always recourse in certain limited circumstances to judicial review, but, given the common shared experiences of the people with whom I have communicated and the feeling among us that decisions are manifestly irrational, illogical and based upon a failure to consider all of the pertinent and material evidence, there is a need for at least one other layer of review.

Q36 David Heyes: How would that work other than being an Ombudsman for Ombudsman, with all the same shortcomings that the existing Ombudsman has?

Robert Murrow: I am not sure that it would have to be an entirely separate Ombudsman for an Ombudsman. I do not know very much about the structure of the qualifications of investigators and how things are dealt with internally within the Ombudsman, but it appears to me as though there ought to be a level of investigator who simply has the requisite knowledge and understanding of the law. Maybe what I am discussing is particular to special educational needs, but there seems to be such a lack of understanding about SEN law and the duties of authorities that to us it feels as though there ought to be a review.

Q37 Simon Danczuk: Brian, you said near the beginning that people do not understand the remit of the Ombudsman. I was looking through some of it: provide a complaints handling service; provide appropriate redress; identify best practice; and ensure proper stewardship of public funds That is pretty broad stuff, is it not?

Brian Thompson: Yes, it is.

Q38 Simon Danczuk: Do you think it is too broad?

Brian Thompson: It is probably about right, because it sits alongside tribunals, courts and other methods. That might be one of the things about SEN. I am not sure whether the Ombudsman is the appropriate person to go to if a tribunal decision has not been carried out. That seems to me to be mixing.

Q39 Simon Danczuk: Is it not trying to do too much stuff?

Brian Thompson: If you have got a local authority providing a range of services, it seems sensible to have a particular body that can deal with complaints about that range of services, but you are then into the question of whether or not you think the services that local authorities provide are the appropriate ones. It seems to me that is right. Maladministration is terribly useful. It is not simply a breach of the law; it can be more or less than that. One of the ideas is that it is in a sense reasonableness and fairness, and people can have different judgments about what is reasonable and fair.

Q40 Simon Danczuk: Guy, do you think its remit is too broad and it is trying to do too much?

Guy Crivello: It is an interesting question. I think some of these statements are aspirational from my experience of the LGO. I think just "ensure sound decisions and appropriate redress based on impartial, rigorous and proportionate investigations" would have been enough.

Q41 Simon Danczuk: Robert, do you have any view?

Robert Murrow: I would agree with Guy.

Q42 Simon Danczuk: The Government’s White Paper on open public services talks about the Ombudsmen having a role in upholding people’s right to choice. That is very different from complaint handling, is it not?

Brian Thompson: Yes. I have difficulty in quite understanding what is meant by that. That seems to me to be more like a job for a regulator, because the Ombudsman is about what the quality of service was like rather than whether someone other than the council might have provided that service. That just seems slightly odd to me.

Q43 Simon Danczuk: Are there any other views?

Guy Crivello: If we are looking at the quality of service, again that does not cover every type of complaint. Where we are looking at corporate complaints that might involve contractual issues between a council and a private provider, or it might provide a whistle-blowing complaint from a private provider about a council. Those appear to me to be slightly different issues. It is not really about necessarily the quality of the service but the quality of the complaints handling of the local authority. I agree that is a service, but I have to say I am not sure.

Robert Murrow: To clarify it, is the aspiration to uphold people’s right to choice?

Q44 Simon Danczuk: Yes, that is right.

Robert Murrow: In my view the Ombudsman exists to deal with complaints about the quality of service provision.

Q45 Simon Danczuk: My other question is not so much about the Ombudsman but local authorities and their ability to handle complaints. If I shop at B&M Bargains in Rochdale, Marks & Spencer, Fortnum & Mason, or wherever it might be, they may have a different way of handling my complaints. Some might be good; some might be less good at doing that. I suppose I then have a choice about whether I go to shop there again. None of that really applies here. I cannot go to a different local authority, can I? Brian, you have probably done research on this. Is it fair to say that some local authorities are good at complaints handling and some are very bad. What is your view on that?

Brian Thompson: That is true. One of the things the LGO has done is to seek to provide training in complaint handling and investigation. On the whole, I think that is a good idea. The LGO and other people have provided guidance on complaint handling. The Cabinet Office produced it a long time ago, if you go back to the Citizen’s Charter in the late 1990s, and we had Service First under the succeeding Government. There is lots of guidance there, but people find it very difficult to follow guidance. If they have been trained in it and have people explaining things to them they understand it better. The fact you continue to get complaints shows it is difficult. People can learn, but they may not learn as well as we might like.

Q46 Simon Danczuk: What is your view, Guy?

Guy Crivello: If we look at the LGO system, certainly local councils have very different ways of dealing with things. I have had the same type of case dealt with in radically different ways by two separate councils. When it comes to councils providing training for the handling of complaints, if we take the Tribunals Service on employment issues, pretty much every company in the country has learnt how to handle them now. They certainly do not make a mistake on it, because it is just far too costly for them to do it. When we were a small organisation with, say, nine employees, we were certainly able to operate employment law without falling foul of the tribunal and being fined for it. That does not seem to me to be the same kind of culture that exists in local authority complaints systems. The fact there is not a consistent statutory provision governing the way in which local authorities in the first instance deal with complaints is part of the systemic problem that goes all the way up to the LGO. She is going to be constrained in viewing maladministration if there is no obligation to do the thing in the first place.

Robert Murrow: Contributors to our submissions are geographically quite far apart throughout England and they have had very different experiences of local authorities and their ability to handle complaints, notwithstanding the fact they have all ended up seeking recourse from the Local Government Ombudsman. That there is not uniformity in terms of giving timely responses or managing to thrash out issues before they get to the Ombudsman, is indicative of the fact that, whatever the Ombudsman is doing to train councils, is not bringing about the level of uniformity in complaints handling for which one might hope.

Q47 Simon Danczuk: Whose job is it to set standards by which local authorities operate their complaints system? Is it a central Government or centrist approach, or do you let them decide themselves? What do you think?

Brian Thompson: It is very difficult because you have the same problem with central Government Departments, as the Parliamentary Ombudsman reported last November. There is no overall approach to it. She was complaining about central Government, and the same is obviously true of local government. But you must understand that people are not very good at dealing with complaints; they do not like it. The advice is: embrace the complaints and learn from them. It is very difficult to be able to do that, but that is what one should strive for.

Guy Crivello: It is difficult but, referring again to the employment sector and employment law, it is possible to achieve a consistent improvement across the entire state.

Q48 Chair: As well as dealing with individual complaints, the Ombudsman produces reports about particular areas of activities: school admissions; justice for homeless people; and councils using bankruptcy powers, among other things. Are these reports of any use, or should the Ombudsman just stick to the day job of dealing with individual complaints?

Brian Thompson: That is very difficult and is something on which I should like to do research. One would like to think it is a good idea. A little bit of research has been done that suggests that councils say, "This is helpful", but whether they then follow it up is another matter. There is learning out there that Ombudsmen can produce, but can you take administrators to that material and make them use it? Can you take a horse to water and make it drink? If you then say, "Well, they’re not doing it. Therefore, don’t bother providing that", that is a counsel of despair, I think.

Q49 Chair: Whether there is any value in these is something on which you might like to do some research, and maybe you could share it with us in due course.

Brian Thompson: I am sure there is value, but it is probably not achieving its potential.

Guy Crivello: I think their value would be greatly increased-it is a rather controversial thing to say here-if all cases upheld, or certainly those not rebutted, were published, even if they would go through for lack of jurisdiction or local settlement. I think all cases should be published for public perusal. I do not see why the public is not allowed to see this stuff. This affects how people vote for local councils, so I do not see why they should remain private. If the matter has been suitably and properly rebutted, there should be no compunction about displaying it. What you get in these reports is a very opaque account of the complaints. A report I am looking at gives no sense of a very serious whistle-blowing complaint that was suppressed. It mentions paving stones, and cars being towed away, but it does not mention the really big issue that had been under the Ombudsman’s nose.

Q50 Chair: I was asking about general reports rather than specific complaint reports.

Guy Crivello: I am talking about the annual review reports. For every council they are giving an itemisation of each of these things that have been upheld, but they are very opaque documents in that they give basic listings but not a good account of all the things that have passed before the Ombudsman in that year.

Robert Murrow: Again, coming at it very much from an SEN angle, guidance as to best practice is a fantastic idea. As is apparent in the case of a child with SEN, who currently has a complaint before the Ombudsman, it would have been very helpful to have had a document specific to that to guide us as to what the Ombudsman considers to be best practice and what the Ombudsman considers is falling short of good practice. Whether or not authorities manage to keep to the guidance notes of the Ombudsman, it is not immaterial; it is valuable and useful to have.

Brian Thompson: Mr Crivello may not be aware that there are different types of reports. There are what are called focus reports, which are new things in which they try to distil the learning they have had in a particular area; school admissions is one area in which they have done that. In addition to individual complaint reports and the annual one, they have these themed reports that they can produce. One of the problems about the things they can say is that there are restrictions on what they can publish, but I quite agree with you that, as far as possible, it would be a very good discipline if their decision to investigate or not investigate, and what they find, were published.

Robert Murrow: I should like to lend my weight to that. Every decision of the Ombudsman should be publicly available.

Guy Crivello: To be clear, I am referring here to the annual review reports of the Ombudsman.

Q51 Chair: Surely, there are certain matters in those reports which by their very nature can be very personal to some individuals. Those individuals may themselves not want the sort of publicity that would come with full disclosure.

Guy Crivello: There are certain exemptions from that. When it comes to adult social care complaints, there is the ability to anonymise. Anyone who has worked in adult social care complaints knows it is eminently possible to draw up a valid account of something that has happened without identifying an individual or their circumstances.

Robert Murrow: I would like to lend weight to that and say that in the SEN world that already happens. Some complaints are publicised. The parties concerned are anonymised, and that seems to work rather well.

Q52 Bob Blackman: I want to go through the process by which people get to the Ombudsman to deal with complaints. If we look at the Ombudsman service, it employs 215 people; it has 95,000 contacts; and 11,249 complaints actually get to the service. Clearly, the Ombudsman has to make a decision about filtering the complaints to be taken on board and investigated. Mr Thompson, in your view is the current process sufficient? Is it the right way of doing it?

Brian Thompson: When you look at the raw statistics, you see there are many more people who contact the Ombudsman than cases that finally find their way through the system. In part that is because a lot of people are complaining about things which are not within the scope of the legislation so the Ombudsman cannot deal with them. Then you have discretionary things. It could be out of time but they have discretion to take it on. There is another area where there could be an alternative remedy. If the Ombudsman, in the exercise of discretion, thinks it is unreasonable to go to court or to a tribunal, they could take it on.

There is then the question of whether or not they think it is something within the scope of maladministration, so there is quite a lot of filtering that goes on. All of it is because of the legislation itself. In some cases there is a certain amount of discretion. Some are very straightforward; something is either within the scope of the legislation or it is not. A lot of people are complaining to the Ombudsman and it is not something the Ombudsman can deal with.

Q53 Bob Blackman: As I understand it, basically the Ombudsman will say, "Unless you have been through the three-stage process of the local authority, or they are very specific cases, we will not consider it." Given my experience of the three-stage complaints system of a local authority, the first complaint is to the service department. They fix it or it goes to stage two, which is an independent review. At stage three, if you have the will to live, it goes to the chief executive, and that will have taken enormous amounts of time and effort by any individual to get there, which means that often it is an extended process.

Brian Thompson: Indeed it is.

Q54 Bob Blackman: Do you think that one of the issues is the complaint handling of local authorities?

Brian Thompson: Absolutely. Ideally, there would be no need for the Ombudsman because complaints handling is better. One of the problems is that, although there is one stage of local resolution, as you have correctly identified there can be three stages, sometimes more, and all of that takes time. There is complainant fatigue. You have to be very upset to keep going if the council is not handling the complaint properly, so there is absolutely a need for all public bodies to handle complaints much better. But it is appropriate that that should be tried first, because most of the time it ought to be quicker and it should provide the public body with an opportunity to try to put things right and learn from it. There must be the opportunity for something above that. Back in the late 1990s, the Chipperfield report looked at the Local Government Ombudsman service and said there would be very little need for the Ombudsman; it could all be done by complaints handling in the councils. Mercifully, that was not accepted, because that would have been senseless.

Q55 Bob Blackman: Mr Murrow, what is your view on this, particularly from the SEN perspective?

Robert Murrow: The experience of contributors to our submissions is that complaints handling is used in the SEN world by local authorities to extend the period of time before any form of resolution is come to. In special educational needs, time is pretty much of the essence, if a disabled child is not getting the provision it needs every week and every day.

Chair: I must suspend the hearing for 15 minutes, hopefully for just one division.

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

On resuming-

Q56 Bob Blackman: You were just talking us through your view about SEN complaints in particular and the process by which local authorities go through them and they get to the Ombudsman.

Robert Murrow: I think I pretty much said everything. It takes too long.

Q57 Bob Blackman: To be clear-because this is important in terms of our evidence-where parents have complaints about SEN, in your evidence you have complained about the generalities of the facts. Of course, there are a number of provisions here. One is that a local authority should either provide statements for children with SEN so they will be retained within schools or they will go to specialist establishments, and the job of the local authority is to identify those. Often the disputes in my experience arise where the parents think the children should go to one institution and the local authority thinks they should go to another.

Robert Murrow: That is correct, and that is a question for the SEN tribunal; it is not something within the remit of the Local Government Ombudsman.

Q58 Bob Blackman: I just want to clarify that you do not think there is any role for the Local Government Ombudsman in those particular cases.

Robert Murrow: Save for the fact that it takes rather too long to have a hearing in the SEN tribunal, I think that is properly something that the tribunal deals with.

Q59 Bob Blackman: That is clearly a different issue. Mr Crivello, probably more on the adult social care side, complaints go through a lengthy local authority process and then go to the Local Government Ombudsman.

Guy Crivello: It is a lengthy process. The question could be asked: why is there a three-stage process at all? If there were proper provisions in place requiring somebody to investigate in a statutorily-controlled and procedural way, why is it necessary to have this as we have this appeal system of the LGO anyway? That is the first consideration. As a taxpayer, I certainly have an eye on the cost of this service all the way from the very beginning right the way through to the end of the LGO’s process. Certainly, where it involves barristers, legal departments and a corporate complaints team one has a feeling of many layers doing the same function, which is basically defending a local authority or diminishing complaints.

Somebody has to be very committed to follow through complaints. To give an example, I have had a situation where we have been through the three-stage process; we have gone to the LGO, and she has declined jurisdiction. At that point we have needed to employ a barrister to go through the law to find out that she does have the jurisdiction. Only when it is put to her by a barrister, with legal advice, does she take the jurisdiction. It is not just a case of running out of steam a little; people can be put off with an erroneous claim that there is no jurisdiction in the first instance. Following that, we can get two years or two and a half years into a claim and the LGO says, "Come to think of it, it is not under my jurisdiction." After two and a half years, that is unacceptable; it should have been decided in the first instance. There was no new evidence in the particular case to which I am referring. The process is very long-winded. It has an air of a process that is designed to put people off continuing to complain.

Q60 Bob Blackman: Do you think there are specific cases that should bypass the local authority complaints process and go straight to the Ombudsman, and the Ombudsman should take them on and investigate them without the local authority even responding to them?

Guy Crivello: I think that would be harsh. It is not necessarily the case that a chief executive can micro-manage every little slip-up that goes on. At that level they should have the opportunity to review the work of their staff and comment on it before being slammed by an external body.

Robert Murrow: By and large, issues can be refined throughout the complaints process, and a complaints process properly administered has value. One of the situations, particular to the special educational needs arena, is that where a local authority is failing to make the provision ordered by a tribunal a parent is faced with making an application to the tribunal, in some circumstances by seeking a judicial review of the authority’s failure, or redress can be sought by complaining to the Local Government Ombudsman for compensation after the fact. There is an argument that a more streamlined process of making complaints where time is of the essence might be helpful as a preferential avenue rather than judicial review.

Q61 Bob Blackman: After you have gone through this rather long-winded process-a three-stage council process and the Ombudsman-and the Ombudsman then finds in favour of the complainant, often the compensation is pitifully small. Do you think there is a case for ramping up the amount of compensation that can be ordered?

Guy Crivello: If you are going to put under the LGO’s remit corporate complaints, you have to understand that such complaints are going to involve a complex relationship between contractual law and various other issues. It is likely that the compensation will be far greater if there is a serious slip-up. For example, if a contract has been terminated unfairly and cannot then be reissued because the tendering process has taken place and essentially has caused catastrophic damage to an institution, reputationally and financially, £1,000, £2,000 or even £15,000 is not going to set that aside. From past rulings of the LGO, I do not see any history where the level of redress that a corporate body would seek has been paid out by the Ombudsman service.

Brian Thompson: If you are looking for compensation, the Ombudsman is not the appropriate means of redress. They offer some things, but primarily injustice caused by maladministration should not really be about that. If it was, they should be directing you elsewhere. It will reflect nuisance or inconvenience in making your complaint, but it is not meant to be compensation in the way that we would understand it.

Q62 Bob Blackman: Is it your view that at the moment it is about right?

Brian Thompson: I am sure some people feel they deserve more, but it is not designed for that and, broadly speaking, it is right.

Robert Murrow: Many parents with whom I have communicated feel they have spent more in their personal time and expenditure on resources in pursuing a complaint against a council through the complaints procedure, and then with the Local Government Ombudsman, than is awarded overall, not just for the time and trouble component, which often is not necessarily awarded. The Ombudsman produces guidance on remedies, which, in the case of non-provision for special educational needs, makes specific reference to the kinds of remedies that the Ombudsman ought to recommend in its decisions. A number of respondents found that when it got to the remedy stage, no account appeared to be taken of the Local Government Ombudsman’s own internal guidance, and the level of remedy was set significantly below what one would expect it to be on a straightforward reading of that guidance. Perhaps the framework is there, if only it would be adhered to.

Guy Crivello: If we take at face value that people should not go to the Ombudsman for financial redress or compensation, that is certainly not made clear by the LGO service. I am sitting here looking at their mission statement, which says they "secure appropriate remedies for injustice as swiftly as possible". If they do not provide this service, they should advertise it very clearly at the top of the list on the front page.

Robert Murrow: I have no direct experience of this, nor have I taken particular soundings about it, but I would be concerned that, if one were to look at the level of remedies recommended by the Ombudsman and seek to set them at a more appropriate level to provide compensation, local authorities would be much less inclined to follow the recommendations, so that feeds into questions of enforceability.

Q63 Bob Blackman: Mr Thompson, do you think the system would change if MPs’ or councillors’ complaints were treated in a different way by the Local Government Ombudsman rather than people just complaining directly?

Brian Thompson: Are you saying that MPs and councillors would refer rather than going directly?

Bob Blackman: It would be a potential filter.

Brian Thompson: When the LGO started that was how it was; it was not meant to be a referral, and that was changed in the late 1980s. It is not the situation, as you know, with MPs and the Parliamentary Ombudsman where there is still a filter and you have the power to refer. I think that in principle direct access is better. Do not forget it is not immediately direct access; you are supposed to have complained to the body first. I think that is the way it should be: complain to the body first and then, if you are not satisfied with that, complain directly to the Ombudsman.

Q64 Mark Pawsey: We have heard evidence that the Local Government Ombudsman exists because the complaints procedure of local authorities often is not fast or robust enough. Do you think the existence of the Ombudsman makes local authorities want to prevent cases from reaching it and makes authorities’ complaints procedures better, or do you think that their complaints procedures would be much the same whether or not the Ombudsman existed?

Brian Thompson: That is very difficult because it differs from council to council. Some councils do have a commitment to try to do things better; others apparently do not seem to take complaints as seriously. There might be a worry that because you have the Ombudsman it means the initial complaints handling is not as good as it might be because they know there is something else. Certainly, that was the complaint made in relation to health. When the Healthcare Commission was the intermediate stage before the Health Service Ombudsman they thought trusts were not dealing with complaints as well as they might because they knew the complainant could go on to the Ombudsman.

Q65 Mark Pawsey: Perhaps I may ask the other two witnesses whether, if local authorities dealt with complaints better, there would be less reason for people to take cases to the Local Government Ombudsman.

Guy Crivello: That is certainly the case. However, we start from first principles. The bottom line is that where you do not have a comprehensive and cohesive statutory framework there are a great many complaints that do not have to be answered at all. When you start from such shaky foundations it is difficult to go on to try to remedy things up the chain when you need to remedy it at the very first principle.

Robert Murrow: There would be less call for the Ombudsman to be approached if complaints handling was better, but local authorities do a vast and wide range of different things. I would be unsure about saying complaints handling across the board is the only reason the Ombudsman might be approached.

Q66 Mark Pawsey: Would it be better if the Ombudsman acted as a mediator rather than somebody trying to sort out some kind of financial remedy for something that has gone wrong? Do you think it would be helpful for the role to be extended in that way?

Brian Thompson: That is the role. Legislation was passed that allows the Ombudsman to appoint people to act as mediators; indeed, some of their own staff have mediation qualifications. They are in the business of dispute resolution, and that is why some people are a little concerned that they did not get an investigation. It does not have to be an investigation to resolve the dispute. Most people want their dispute resolved quickly, and if that can be done without an investigation, so much the better. Obviously, some people may not be happy with that, but that is their role at the moment. They will try to resolve things without an investigation, leaving the investigation for bigger or complex issues, or where there is a wider systemic issue.

Q67 Mark Pawsey: It does not resolve them as a mediator by bringing together the parties, for example. Should it?

Brian Thompson: I do not know whether they physically bring them together, but there are types of mediation called shuttle negotiation, where you are taking the views of both parties to each other, even if they are not in the same room. Certainly, they can be doing that.

Q68 Mark Pawsey: What are your views about the calibre and skill levels of the staff employed in the Local Government Ombudsman service?

Guy Crivello: I have said in my written evidence and I say here that I do not believe there is the kind of rigour that is commensurate with the severity or the seriousness of the cases that are now being put before the LGO. With a background in local authorities, it is perfectly good for some cases but when you get to corporate cases, the implications of maladministration and what kind of injustice can be caused to a corporate body, or to its clients if it is a charity, you are looking at a far greater skill range than perhaps will be garnered from that one source. While they may be recruiting people actively at the moment, it is certainly not true of the hierarchy that they have a wider real-life experience that would translate into a more competent service in the handling of complaints.

Q69 Mark Pawsey: You would like to see a higher calibre.

Guy Crivello: I would like to see people with legal training. That would certainly be a minimum qualification for presiding over matters of public interest and public safety as well. The safeguard that the public would want is a minimum level of legal qualification. I do not think anyone here would take legal advice from anyone other than a barrister in some of the type of cases we are looking at. With the best will in the world, the Ombudsman is out of her depth in many cases and has become a jack of all trades and master of none.

Q70 Mark Pawsey: Mr Thompson, would you agree with that view?

Brian Thompson: Perhaps Mr Crivello is talking of a concern in a particular area that he knows very well. More generally, I think they do have legally qualified people. If you are going to have more legally qualified people you will have higher staff costs. I do not know whether or not DCLG would be funding them to that level. Clearly, every organisation can upskill its staff. I do not know whether or not they are adequately resourced in terms of people’s skills at the moment. I cannot really comment on that.

Q71 Mark Pawsey: Mr Murrow, I understand that you are involved in the legal profession. What is your view of the calibre of staff in the office of the Local Government Ombudsman?

Robert Murrow: I must stress, just to be clear, that my professional practice is unrelated to public law or education law. My view is that it leaves a lot to be desired. It appears, being as general as possible, that investigators sometimes do not have the rigour of thought and ability to follow argument one might hope they would have. I have a selection of quotations from some of the people who contributed to our submissions. One is, "The investigating officer did not seem to have the faintest idea about statements and procedures, to be honest." Another quote is: "She does not seem to be able to open attachments, because if she did she would see that the attachments prove that the LEA did not fulfil their duty. Everything she writes I swear is copied and pasted because it bears no relation to what actually happened." And, "I got the LGO’s file, and all of the woman did was write and say, ‘Is his provision in place yet?’ several times, while the local authority have sent emails to the LGO telling them how difficult I was." Those are just a few choice examples of the kinds of things parents experience with the Local Government Ombudsman. The quality of the investigation and calibre of the investigators does not appear to be there. Whether it is because they are under-skilled or whether it is because they are under-resourced and overstretched I do not know, but these kinds of experiences lead one to believe that it is not happening as it ought to.

Q72 Chair: Mr Thompson in particular talked about the range of different services provided. For example, for the police, the IPCC is different from the Ombudsman service. Then we have the Health Ombudsman, Parliamentary Ombudsman and Housing Ombudsman. Looking at the way services might be delivered in future and thinking, for example, of community budgets, which we looked at recently, you can start to imagine services being brought together and budgets pooled, which involve local authority housing services, social services and health service and the police, and something going wrong. You can have an awful, interesting situation about where you complain about maladministration and where accountability lies. I just wonder whether that sort of issue will cause a wider view to be taken.

Brian Thompson: That was part of the thinking behind the 2000 report that led to legislation in 2007, particularly in the area of health and social care, so that the Health Service Ombudsman and Local Government Ombudsman could combine; otherwise, the different aspects of the complaint would have to be sent to the respective Ombudsmen. That legislation allowed them to work together, pool resources and deal with cases, which is why I am suggesting there needs to be a wider review. As you say, the delivery of services is not going to respect the old-fashioned idea that it is clearly a public body that is doing it by itself and not in partnership. To an extent, the Ombudsman can look at something if it has been commissioned by the local authority. If they are responsible for it, even though they are not necessarily the only body engaged in delivering it, it could be looked at. I think there would be a need to have a look at it, and that is why I am urging that there be a wider review of public services.

Q73 Chair: Just a week ago we heard news that the chairman and vice-chairman of the Local Government Ombudsman have now been appointed after a somewhat long delay in reaching that conclusion. Do you welcome the appointments? Are you in any way optimistic that with fewer resources and more streamlined organisation it will prove to be more effective in the future?

Brian Thompson: Clearly, Ombudsmen are in the business of trying to help other bodies improve. Therefore, they have got to practise what they preach. I think they are trying to improve their early assessment of cases so they can streamline their process and be quicker. Clearly, that is something to be encouraged. I do not know whether or not they will have the resources to be able to deal with the complaints they might face, because if councils are facing cuts their service may go down, which may lead to an increase in business for the Ombudsman. Perhaps DCLG do not fully appreciate that the Ombudsman is part of the justice system and that possibly justice needs slightly more protection of resources than other services. They will have a challenge, there is no question about that.

Robert Murrow: I do not have an overview that gives me any qualification to pass comment on that.

Chair: Thank you all very much for coming and giving some very interesting evidence this afternoon.

Prepared 16th July 2012