Thursday, August 02, 2012

CLG Committee Findings - The failings of the Local Government Ombudsman

For those who don't have the time to wade through all the documents regarding the recent Communities and Local Government Committee investigation into the work of the Local Government Ombudsman I have extracted below what I consider to be the highlights. (The bits that probably made the Local Government Ombudsman stock up on Imodium.]

For those who prefer to read all the documents click here.

2  The organisation and structure of the Local Government Ombudsman

[31] 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.

[47] 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.

[48] We recommend that the Commission institute an annual, independent staff survey and that it publish the results.

3  Handling of complaints

[52] 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.

[57] 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.

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

[66] 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.

[67] 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.

[68] 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.

[72] 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.

Conclusions and recommendations

The Strategic Business Review

[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.

Commission staff survey

[11] We recommend that the Commission institute an annual, independent staff survey and that it publish the results.

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.

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