Time for a People's Ombudsman Service - Public Administration Committee Contents

Annex: Committee's visit to Netherlands

Programme for visit
5 November 2013
British Embassy

Lange Voorhout 10

2514 ED The Hague

Working lunch with Sir Geoffrey Adams KCMG, British Ambassador to the Netherlands and Embassy staff.
Office of the National Ombudsman

Bezuidenhoutseweg 151

2594 AG Den Haag

Meeting with Dr. Alex Brenninkmeijer, National Ombudsman of the Netherlands and staff.
Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations

Turfmarkt 147

2511 DP Den Haag

Meeting with Ms Marilyn Haimé, Director for Constitutional Affairs, Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom relations and Ministry staff.
Residence of the British Ambassador to the Netherlands Working dinner with Sir Geoffrey Adams KCMG British Ambassador to the Netherlands; Ms Marilyn Haimé, Director for Constitutional Affairs, Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom relations; Dr. Alex Brenninkmeijer, National Ombudsman of the Netherlands; and Mr Peter Heskes, Ombudsman for the Hague.
6 November
Plein 2

2511 CR Den Haag

Tour of Dutch Parliament.
Second Chamber

Lange Poten 4

2511 CL Den Haag

Meeting with Mr Pieter Litjens, Ms Astrid Oosenberg and Mr Ronald Raak, Interior Affairs Committee, Dutch Parliament.
British Embassy Conference Room

Lange Voorhout 10

2514 ED The Hague

Meeting with Fergal Van de Wouw, Team Leader, Children's Ombudsman.

Meeting with Arre Zuurmond, Municipal Ombudsman for Amsterdam; and Arjan Widlak, Director, Kafka Brigade.

Meeting with Professor Marc Hertogh, Professor of Sociology of Law, Groningen University; and Arnt Main, Senior Researcher, Verwey-Jonker Institute.

Summary of findings

·  Departments in the Dutch Government were responsible for their own complaints handling, although there were general guidelines to follow. The Ministry of the Interior, which is similar to the Cabinet Office, did not take overall responsibility for complaints handling bygovernment departments.

·  The Interior Affairs Committee in the Dutch Parliament held a session each year on the annual report of National Ombudsman. Members of the Committee felt it was not the role of the Committee to interfere in the way the National Ombudsman operated.

·  Participants suggested that the professional skills of officials needed to be refreshed so that they saw complaints as a way to change the way an organisation worked. Officials needed to have the backing of politicians and high-level managers to enable them to change an organisation.

·  Participants said that in the past 30 years the National Ombudsman had become a well-established institution in Dutch administrative justice, and that one of his most important contributions as an Ombudsman was that he demonstrated that good governance was "much more than following the rules".

·  The concept of "fairness" was very important for citizens in the Netherlands. The daily work of National Ombudsman of the Netherlands involved working out what was fair in individual cases—not just what was in the law. He stressed four element of fairness: personal contact; fair treatment; equal footing; and trust in citizens (most citizens were honest and should be treated as such).

·  Participants broadly supported the idea of the office of ombudsman having a high profile, in order to increase its impact. The National Ombudsman of the Netherlands writes articles for newspapers, appears on TV, and uses the media to get his message across to the public. His high profile had caused some tension with MPs and some participants highlighted the danger that a high profile ombudsman could start to try and affect policy, which it had no responsibility to do.

·  A single public services ombudsman was generally considered as beneficial but there was a danger of scale and creating a very large bureaucracy.Regional ombudsmen were said to provide an opportunity for ombudsmen to work more closely with the services that fall within their remit and area.

·  TheNational Ombudsmen of the Netherlands operated direct access in respect of complaints. The "MP filter"in operation in the UK for non-health related complaints to PHSO was viewed as creating additional bureaucracy.

·  Participants said that the biggest issue for the National Ombudsman in next decade was how to reach out to the whole population. They suggested that the National Ombudsman of the Netherlands had made progress: for example, he now operated a "National Ombudsman on tour" scheme and visited municipalities of the Netherlands.

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Prepared 28 April 2014