The work of the Local Government Ombudsman - Communities and Local Government Committee Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

Reorganisation and transformation

1.  We echo the tribute and thanks Dr Martin has paid to staff at the Commission for their work since 2010. (Paragraph 22)

The Strategic Business Review

2.  We conclude that the Strategic Business Review has indentified inefficiencies in the current operation of the LGO which if addressed properly should result in savings. (Paragraph 27)

3.  We found the LGO's reasoning for not publishing the 2011 Strategic Business Review in full unconvincing. We heard no good reason why the Review and summary were not published simultaneously. Staff at the LGO are understandably concerned about the future of the organisation and their jobs and can reasonably expect their senior managers to provide full information. Publishing a summary without the Review risks fuelling a perception that senior management are holding back unpalatable news and undermining staff morale. (Paragraph 31)

4.  We welcome the LGO's intention, in line with the Strategic Business Review, to set up an assessment process that will be run by a small number of experienced staff who will concentrate on assessing enquiries and complaints but it was not made clear how and when any alteration would be made. We therefore have concerns about the execution of the change. (Paragraph 34)

Chief Operating Officer

5.  We request that in responding to our Report the Government and the LGO set out the arrangements and timetable for appointing the new Chief Operating Officer as well as setting out his or her responsibilities. (Paragraph 36)

Scrutiny of the Commission

6.  In our view, Parliament can legitimately and reasonably call the Commission to account, to explain how it plans to implement its own Review within its budget and to ensure that the Commission operates transparently and efficiently. (Paragraph 41)

Implementation of the Strategic Business Review

7.  In responding to our Report we ask the Commission to explain which of the findings in the Strategic Business Review it intends to implement in full and in part with a timetable for implementation for each. (Paragraph 42)

8.  In responding to our Report we recommend that the Government explain how it will monitor the implementation of the reorganisation at the Commission. (Paragraph 43)

Open Public Services White Paper: Choice

9.  We note that the Open Public Services White Paper was published in July 2011, that is before the Strategic Business Review was completed. In our view the Commission faces a formidable task in carrying out the reorganisation arising from the Review and that developing a role in upholding the right to choice risks diverting it from its main work to 2015: the handling of complaints and implementing the reorganisation. (Paragraph 45)

Updating the Grant Memorandum

10.  While the lack of progress in updating the 1999 Grant Memorandum may arise from the state of uncertainty since 2010, we consider it unacceptable that the LGO should not be clear about its relationship with, and responsibilities to, DCLG. We would go further to say that it is of particular importance in such a period that the relationship and responsibilities should be comprehensively and accurately defined. They can then be revised when the situation changes. We recommend that as a matter of urgency the Government finalise the arrangements for updating and superseding the 1999 Grant Memorandum. (Paragraph 47)

Commission staff survey

11.  We recommend that the Commission institute an annual, independent staff survey and that it publish the results. (Paragraph 48)

Customer satisfaction

12.  We recommend that the LGO develop and publish a methodology for measuring levels of customer satisfaction to apply for the next ten years and, if possible, develop the methodology in partnership with other Ombudsmen in the British Isles. We also recommend that having developed the methodology the Commission carry out a survey in 2013 and triennially thereafter. (Paragraph 52)

Delays in handling cases

13.  An organisation, whose primary job is investigating and determining whether maladministration by others has taken place, must itself take care to avoid maladministration. If it does not, it will undermine its own role and credibility. (Paragraph 57)

14.  We urge the Commission to review its current administrative arrangements, as well as those that emerge as a result of the reorganisation, to ensure that the delay in determining cases which amounts to maladministration ceases immediately. We recommend that all processes should be strictly timetabled and that cases for decision through the quasi-judicial process—other than in exceptional circumstances and with the agreement of the parties—should be determined within three months. (Paragraph 57)

15.  We recommend that as part of any new timetabling arrangements complainants are always informed if there is going to be a delay. (Paragraph 58)

Confusion between "mediation" and quasi-judicial function

16.  In our view it is self-evident that the facility to provide a mediated process must be available to the LGO to be used where it is appropriate to achieve redress. (Paragraph 62)

17.  As we have already noted, the reorganisation and transformation programme may lead to fewer cases following the investigative route to formal determination. In these circumstances we consider that the Commission needs to be completely clear how the distinct processes operate and differ as well as the criteria against which complaints are allocated to these resolution processes. In addition, when a case moves from one process to another—for example, if mediation fails and the case is moved to investigation—the shift to a different method of handling has to be made clear to all the parties. (Paragraph 62)

18.  We welcome the publication of the LGO's decisions. Comprehensive publication will provide a body of precedents and standards, to guide not only local authorities but those considering making a complaint on the grounds of maladministration. (Paragraph 66)

19.  We therefore recommend that the LGO, as part of its reorganisation set up a review of the arrangements for treating evidence in cases involving serious service failure, specifically to what extent the LGO's processes should be brought into line with judicial procedures such as full disclosure of all submissions, with, if necessary in sensitive cases, redactions of personal information. (Paragraph 67)

20.  Where the mediated process results in an agreement we consider that, in the interests of transparency, these agreements should also be published by the LGO, if necessary in anonymised form. (Paragraph 68)

Review and evaluation of the LGO's decisions

21.  We recommend that the LGO working with the British and Irish Ombudsman Association bring forward arrangements to ensure that there is an annual evaluation of the LGO by an external, independent reviewer to ensure that it meets the criteria of independence, fairness, effectiveness, openness and transparency and accountability. We further recommend that the first review form part of the proposed reorganisation of the LGO and that the reviewer consider the matters we raise at paragraph 69 of this Report. The reviewer should be appointed by the end of this year and complete his or her work and publish it no later than Easter 2013. (Paragraph 72)

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Prepared 17 July 2012