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A single ombudsman for UK public services



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Presentation to the IPPR seminar on 'Citizen redress in a consumer democracy' 27 January 2014. With Jane Martin (Local Government Ombudsman) and Steve Reed MP.

A single ombudsman for UK public services

  1. 1. Joined-up Citizen Redress is essential for Consumer Democracy Patrick Dunleavy and Jane Tinkler February 2014
  2. 2. Redress provides a lens onto public sector quality and service • The Ombudsman as citizen champion: adjudicates on individual cases where bad practice or negligence has occurred • The Ombudsman as market checker: highlights inefficiencies of regulations that might affect many citizens or whole sectors • The Ombudsman as change evaluator: see where old systems have struggled to keep pace with new and changing environments • The Ombudsman as future proofer: also see where new systems and processes are not being effectively rolled out or only for some citizens
  3. 3. The current system is complex
  4. 4. A simplified typology of citizen redress in UK central government 2009 2014 Services delivered by mainline departments, agencies and NDPBs, and their contractors Traditional & social media Mediators Complaints (1st tier) Appeals Regulators Complaints (2nd tier) Ombudsmen Legal cases Redress sector Consumer bodies Complaints/appeals dichotomy Online feedback
  5. 5. But it is also sizeable and its scale can be hidden by lack of consistent oversight 1.4 million cases in central government Processed by 9,300 staff Costing at least £510 million annually
  6. 6. Comparing total expenditure and costs per case 2012/13 Parliamentary and Health Services Ombudsman Local Government Ombudsman Independent Police Complaints Commission Expenditure (£) (000s) Enquiries Cases Considered Cases Cost per Case (£) 33,166 26,961 4,500 384 7,370 27,545 20,186 10,307 2,834 2,672 33,200 11,855 113 2,801 Welsh Public Sector Ombudsman 4,150 4,987 1,790 241 2,318 Scottish Public Sector Ombudsman 3,449 3,007 4,120 1,581 837
  7. 7. A single Public Services Ombudsman for England might be a solution • Support for a change in the ombudsman landscape has been consistent for over a decade: – Collcutt Report (2000) proposed a single public sector Ombudsman for England – Department for Constitutional Affairs Transforming Public Services (2004) looked at joining up the redress landscape – National Audit Office (2005) Citizen Redress study called for greater joined up oversight of the redress industry – Law Commission (2008) called for a wide-ranging review of the public services ombudsmen and their relationship with other redress institutions – The Gordon (2013) Governance Review of the LGO Service recommended that “consideration should be given to the creation of a unified public services ombudsman in the medium term” – One aspect of the Public Administration Select Committee current inquiry on the PHSO is looking at whether reorganisation is desirable
  8. 8. Reasons for this are . . . • Make it easier for citizens to know who to complain to • Provide a focal point for citizen redress in England • Provide an oversight to all public services in England • Save money
  9. 9. Scotland and Wales have one PSO compared to England’s six Scottish PSO PSO Wales English equivalent Housing associations Housing associations Housing Ombudsman Local authorities Local authorities Local Government Ombudsman Police Police Independent Police Complaints Commission Prisons Prisons Prisons and Probation Ombudsman NHS NHS Parliamentary and Health Services Ombudsman Regulators Regulators Parliamentary and Health Services Ombudsman Schools Schools Local Government Ombudsman (admissions only) Scottish Government Government of Wales Parliamentary and Health Services Ombudsman Universities and colleges Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education Water and sewage services No ombudsman oversight
  10. 10. Economies of scale helps reduce costs – the example of the unified Tribunal Service Caseload Expenditure (000s) (est.) Cost per Case 2009/10 Multiple individual tribunals 532,000 £235,000 £442 874,164 £373,700 £427 2012/13 Single Tribunal Service
  11. 11. How a single PSO might be structured and how it might work • Focusing on national test cases • Launching own investigations National PSO Regional PSO 1 Regional PSO 2 Regional PSO 3 • Maintaining links with local bodies • Sharing good practice across region
  12. 12. Citizen-centred changes that will also be needed for a joined up PSO to work • The PSO and the citizen needs to have a more direct relationship, which means the MP filter needs to be removed • The Ombudsman needs to be seen as independent and trusted, and being able to launch her own inquiries would help with this • PSO’s remit needs to be extended to be as wide as the range of public services and providers are (including public, private, third and voluntary, social enterprises etc bodies)
  13. 13. Process changes that will also be needed for a joined up PSO to work • The Ombudsman should develop a role as the ‘head’ of the redress sector, providing leadership to help to improve administrative decision-making • Varying the types of investigations (like introducing an initial mediation phase) would allow flexibility and increase the number of cases that could be looked into • Radically increasing the use of digital and social media channels for communication what and how the PSO works and the advice that can be provided • PSO decisions should be binding as they are with private sector ombudsmen

Editor's Notes

  • Figure by Local Government Ombudsman (2013)
  • Figures taken from NAO (2005).
  • Abraham, Ann (2012) ‘Making sense of the muddle: the ombudsman and administrative justice, 2002-2011’, Journal of Social Welfare and Family Law, 34 (1): 91-103. Quote page 91.
  • Source: 2008-09 figures taken from Dunleavy et al (2009) with 2012-13 figures from the Tribunal Service Annual Report and Accounts.
  • Important for the choice agenda. Is services are being decided locally, and therefore there is regional variation on what and how services are provided, doesn’t it also follow that the Ombudsman needs to understand local priorities and services?
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