Communities and Local Government CommitteeWritten evidence from the Department for Communities and Local Government

I know you are now beginning your inquiry into the Commission for Local Administration in England (“the Commission”), and I am writing to update you on the latest developments with the Commission and on our plans for the transformation of that organisation.

When I gave evidence to your Committee on 21 December 2011, I mentioned that because of the changing nature of the Commission’s role, we were looking to the Ombudsman to have greater focus on being in effect a consumer champion. I also explained that there was a view that there should be a single Ombudsman rather than several Ombudsmen with at least one of them having in addition very significant managerial responsibilities. I indicated that we were actively considering as a way forward not appointing a third Ombudsman and reshaping the Commission’s senior management structure, with the appointment of a Chief Operating Officer relieving the Ombudsmen of administrative and executive responsibilities, allowing them to focus much more on the Ombudsman role.

I subsequently concluded that the way forward was indeed as I had indicated to you, and as you will know, on 16 April I designated Dr Jane Martin as Chairman, and Ms Anne Seex as Vice-Chairman, of the Commission. At the same time, I gave approval for the Commission to recruit a Chief Operating Officer who will assume the roles of Chief Executive and Accounting Officer for the Commission, both roles previously undertaken by the Chairman. This will leave the Chairman free to focus on the strategic direction of the Commission and her quasi-judicial Ombudsman role, while the Chief Operating Officer handles the day-to-day running of the Commission.

This restructuring of the top management of the Commission, including the decision not to appoint a third Ombudsman, is a first step to radically transforming the Commission, making it more streamlined, cost-effective, and above all being more customer-focused, championing the rights of redress for local residents. This view of the future Commission reflects the future roles of the Ombudsman which we identified in our Open Public Services White Paper, and underpins the budgets (£13.859 million for 2012–13; £12.879 million for 2013–14; £11.9 million for 2014–15) which we recently confirmed for the Commission for the remainder of this Comprehensive Spending Review period.

With the reshaping of the Commission’s top management there remain three further major elements to the reforms necessary to bring about the reforms we are seeking. First, there will need to be a comprehensive restructuring and downsizing of the Commission’s staff. Secondly, all the Commission’s activities need to be moved on to a single site which provides best value for money. Thirdly, the Commission’s processes for handling complaints will be wholly re-engineered with the focus on those cases involving serious service failure.

The Commission is now working closely with my officials to bring about this transformation programme which builds on a review of its future role which the Commission itself undertook last year. Our expectation is that the whole transformation, including relocations, will be substantially completed during the remainder of this Spending Review period. Such a reformed Commission will mean that the Local Government Ombudsmen can in future years continue to play their vital role in the community of making sure that people get swift and fair redress if things go wrong in the delivery of their local services.

I am copying this letter to Secretary of State for Health and the Secretary of State for Education.

April 2012

Prepared 16th July 2012