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Public Service Ombudsman - A Consultation Paper

In May 2015 the Cabinet Office launched a consultation exercise on possibly creating a new Public Service Ombudsman (PSO).  The intention was to combine, under one head, the work of the Parliamentary Ombudsman, Health Service Ombudsman, Local Government Ombudsman and Housing Ombudsman.

CIVEAI responded to the consultation exercise giving broad support to the proposal, believing it could provide an enhanced service both to the general public and public service providers and also provide value for money.  CIVEA expressed a few concerns, for example if, as was proposed, each existing service would continue to be led by a senior ombudsman under the umbrella of the Public Service Ombudsman, there would be a danger of creating a 'silo' mentality with the different jurisdictions continuing to remain separate.  This would be against one of the main purposes of the new body which was to ensure greater collaboration between the different services.

The link to the response is as follows:

https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/public-service-ombudsman

The conclusions set out in the government's response were as follows:

  • Following concerns from the housing sector lobby the PSO will not, at least initially, include the Housing Ombudsman;
  • There will be a modern governance structure to ensure it is properly and efficiently managed;
  • It will be more directly accountable to MPs (possibly with a statutory body to oversee its operations) and possibly greater parliamentary oversight;
  • It will employ high levels of expertise and will have executive authority to organise and deploy its staff.  There will be a high level of sector specific knowledge and investigatory expertise;
  • It will operate a 'no wrong door' approach referring or transferring complaints when they fall wholly or partly within the jurisdiction of another complaints resolution body;
  • The PSO will be given express powers to publish guidance, reports and training materials promoting best practice in complaints handling including principles, processes and analysis.  The creation of a 'complaints culture' is intended [this may be a possible cause for concern]; and
  • The PSO will be given the following specific powers:
  1. To conduct joint investigations with others where the subject matter of the complaint falls within multiple jurisdictions e.g. with the national ombudsmen of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland;
  2. To widen the scope of individual investigations, where it appears that injustice may have been suffered as a result of similar maladministration elsewhere;
  3. To share its reports with prescribed others, such as regulators and inspectors, with a view to making sure that its findings and recommendations feed into the appropriate oversight mechanisms; and
  4. Wider powers to publish the outcomes of its investigations and on general themes arising.

As a postscript to the above; it was assumed that a draft Public Service Ombudsman Bill would appear in the last Queen's Speech.  However, it was not to be.  It is believed that the proposal has run into serious problems.  As stated above it had already been decided to omit the Housing Ombudsman from the proposal and there were known to be problems in a number of areas as well as concern over the new body being unwieldy and ultimately inefficient and bureaucratic.  There is still thought to be enthusiasm for the proposal but it may be some time before we see anything further by way of proposals.