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Local Government Ombudsman Service

Volume 571: debated on Friday 29 November 2013

Earlier this year my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State commissioned an independent governance review of the Local Government Ombudsman Service.

I am today publishing a report of that review with its conclusions and recommendations, and announcing the Government’s response.

The review, undertaken by Robert Gordon CB, a former Director-General in the Scottish Government, has examined the institutional structures and accountability of the Local Government Ombudsman Service. These structures consist of two or more local ombudsmen, who are office holders appointed by Her Majesty, and who are responsible for determining cases, and a commission comprising of the local ombudsmen and the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman; one of the local ombudsman is chairman of the commission and another is vice-chairman. Currently there are two local ombudsmen.

The review concludes that these current structures and governance arrangements are outdated and insufficient. The review recommends that as soon as practicable these arrangements should be reformed so that there is only one local ombudsman, supported by a board including the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, and strengthened by the addition of one or two non-Executive members.

The Government share these conclusions, and intend, as parliamentary time allows, to seek the necessary legislation to enable there to be a single local ombudsman with a strengthened board, including the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, and with two non-Executive members. We believe such governance arrangements will provide more robust and consistent leadership and help drive performance, delivery and further reform of the service.

The review also highlighted a number of questions about the wider ombudsmen landscape with the reviewer concluding that in the medium-term consideration should be given to the creation of a unified public services ombudsman for England.

On 16 October, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Government Policy announced to the Public Administration Select Committee that he was launching two separate reviews—one to look into the question of how better use can be made of complaints to achieve both redress for the citizen and improvement in service delivery and the other to look at the question of the ombudsmen landscape.

In the context of these reviews and having regard to any conclusions of the relevant Select Committees, we intend to develop and test ideas for a model for creating a single public services ombudsman for England. In exploring the scope for a single ombudsman we must establish if it will deliver a better service for all, and ensure it does not in any way weaken or slow processes by which people, including patients with complaints about health services, can escalate those complaints. The aim must always be to ensure that redress for people who complain about public services, including health, is as straightforward, speedy, and satisfactory as possible.

I have placed a copy of the review in the Library of the House.