Public Administration CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (CSR 8)

Summary

It is important that Civil Service reform includes consideration of public service delivery and accountability for it.

The Ombudsman’s Principles of Good Administration and related guidance are a valuable resource for shaping public service delivery and are pertinent to any proposed reform.

The Administrative Justice and Tribunals Council has also completed important relevant work in recent years, especially in respect of first-instance decision-making by public officials and the “right first time” agenda.

1. We are writing in response to PASC’s recent call for evidence on the Government’s plans for Civil Service reform.

2. It is not our intention to comment at length. We do, however, wish to make three specific points.

3. First, we appreciate that much of the debate on this issue will be concerned with the policy function of the Civil Service and its relationship with the political process. Equally important, however, is the Civil Service responsibility for public service delivery and its accountability to Parliament for the discharge of that function.

4. As Parliament’s Ombudsman we have a significant part to play in that process of accountability. In the case of departmental maladministration, I can reasonably expect to hold to account a department for its failings by addressing my practical concerns to the Permanent Secretary and to solicit the support of PASC, and other select committees, in that task. We are acutely aware of the importance of service delivery for citizens and of the damage to individual lives that can be caused by poor service and maladministration. We encourage PASC to keep that aspect of any reform programme clearly in view.

5. Secondly, we have in recent years published a trilogy of guidance comprising Principles of Good Administration, Principles of Good Complaint Handling and Principles for Remedy. These publications are derived from our experience of handling complaints about public services and should serve as a valuable resource for the Civil Service and indeed for all providers of public services. We encourage PASC to be mindful of these Principles when considering how the service-delivery function of the Civil Service can best be reformed.

6. Thirdly, we are mindful too of the recent work of the Administrative Justice and Tribunal Council, especially in respect of its work on “Right First Time”. The purpose of that project was to identify the importance of first-instance decision-making by public officials and the damage, both human and financial, that can be caused when the Civil Service falls short of legitimate expectations in that regard. We draw the attention of PASC to this work and to its relevance to Civil Service reform.

7. We trust these observations are helpful. We are, of course, very willing to expand on them further.

November 2012

Prepared 5th September 2013