In a new report, the Communities and Local Government (CLG) Committee calls on the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) to raise its game significantly. To deliver its role as independent arbitrator in disputes about unfair treatment or service failure by local authorities, the Local Government Ombudsman must tackle operational inefficiencies rapidly and conduct its own activities with credible effectiveness.
Quote from Clive Betts MP, Chair of the Committee
Launching a report of a recent inquiry that looked closely at the role and efficacy of the Local Government Ombudsman, CLG Committee chair Clive Betts said,
First and foremost, the LGO must implement the changes identified by the recent Strategic Business Review, so that it can live within its means while providing the service to the public that is required by the legislation and expected by taxpayer.
LGO has been taking far too long to determine some cases. One of the Ombudsmen conceded that the delay in determining some cases was itself likely to amount to maladministration. This must raise questions about the LGO's authority and credibility. The organisation needs to apply strict deadlines to all the cases that it handles.
The LGO has also to develop a clear methodology to measure levels of customer satisfaction and publish the results every year. It must also put in place arrangements to ensure there is an annual evaluation of its own activities and decision making by an independent external reviewer, to ensure the LGO is itself fair, effective, open, transparent and accountable. Such a reviewer should be appointed by the end of this year and report for the first time no later than Easter 2013.
Ministers must also take steps urgently to update the governance agreement - the so called 'Grant Memorandum' - that it has with the LGO so that the organisation can have a clear and comprehensive understanding of its relationship with, and responsibilities to, the Department for Communities and Local Government.
In the report CLG committee concludes:
- In future the LGO must be completely clear with all parties about the criteria it applies in order to determine whether cases are assigned to be resolved through a mediated process to achieve redress, or are allocated for full investigation and formal determination. Likewise the LGO must be transparent about the procedures that apply when any case is moved from one process to another – such as when mediation fails.
- The LGO management's rationale for not publishing the 2011 Strategic Business Review in full was 'unconvincing' and suggests there may be insufficient appetite for change within the LGO.
- The LGO must explain which findings from the Strategic Business Review will be implemented in full and in part, and provide a timetable for this in the response it makes to the Committee's report.
- The LGO needs to set out the arrangements and timetable for appointing the new Chief Operating Officer (and their responsibilities) in the response to the Committee's report.
- Government must explain how it will monitor the implementation of reorganisation at the LGO.
- An annual, independent staff survey should be reinstated at the LGO with results published.