Headlines: August 3rd, 2005

A radical reform of the Public Sector Ombudsman Services is planned as part of the wider modernization of public services. There are Ombudsmen for central government departments and their agencies, for the health service, together with a further three for local government. The Ombudsmen conduct independent investigations about unfair or improper actions or poor service. Their aim is to put things right and to share learning to improve public services.The number of complaints received by the Ombudsmen continues to grow and a major constraint in improving efficiency is that the five elements of the service work independently. As services at the sharp end move to a more joined up approach, such as health and social services working together, it becomes increasingly difficult to operate in a silo when dealing with complaints. It is now proposed that the Ombudsmen should work together and share information. Ironically Ann Abraham holds the posts of Ombudsman for central government and for the health service, but her staff are organized in separate commands. The changes will mean that the staff of all the five organizations will be able to consult each other and work together on cases and issues that are relevant to more than one of them.

Another major impediment to efficiency is that each complaint is subjected to an intensive formal investigation, which is both time consuming for the investigators and the people under investigation. It also means that complainants have to wait long periods for resolution of their grievance. It is now proposed that the investigation rules should be replaced by a flexible framework which would allow investigators to reach an informal resolution of the issue where this is in the interests of the complainant.

Consultation on the proposals will close on 18 November 2005. The consultation document is available at:

http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/propriety_and_ethics/parliamentary_ombudsman/ombudsmenreform