LGO improving, but still has way to go, say MPs
In 2012, the Communities and Local Government Committee raised serious concerns about the performance of the Local Government Ombudsman [LGO] and called on it to raise its game significantly. In a Report published today, the Committee argues that over the past 12 months the LGO has made a concerted effort to act on its recommendations and become more accountable, efficient and transparent.
The Committee recognises the considerable efforts the LGO has made to take on board the recommendations of its July 2012 Report. There is still work to do, however, and today’s Report makes recommendations aimed at allowing the LGO to continue to improve.
Commenting on the Report, Clive Betts MP, Chair of the Communities and Local Government Committee, said:
"I am pleased with the way the LGO has responded to our concerns and acted on the recommendations we made in our earlier report. In 2012, we found an organisation responsible for investigating maladministration in serious danger of being guilty of maladministration itself. Since then, it has made a concerted effort to improve and become more accountable, efficient and transparent.
But the LGO cannot afford to rest on its laurels. Further work remains to be done if it is to totally quell the Committee’s concerns and fully restore public confidence in its work."
The Committee makes four recommendations that would enable the LGO to continue to improve its performance. These are:
- That the LGO publishes its staff survey in full, rather than summarising it as it did in 2012 [paragraph 19]
- That the LGO ensures that the timeliness of its decisions and its new case-handling quality control system are externally reviewed so that improvements in both are maintained [paragraph 23].
- That at least one independent member be appointed to the board that oversees the LGO [paragraph 25].
- That the LGO appoint within 3 months an independent evaluator of complaints focused on its systems and services, not its decisions [paragraph 27].
Clive Betts said:
"In our 2012 Report we recommended the LGO institute an annual independent staff survey. Whilst we welcome the fact that it has done so, publishing only a summary of its findings in 2012 fuelled a perception that senior management were withholding bad news. The same mistake must not be made again. The 2013 survey should be published in full.
Last year the LGO admitted that the prolonged time taken to determine cases may have amounted to maladministration. The LGO has since made a genuine attempt to bring under control the number of cases over 52 weeks old. It must now ensure that progress is maintained by arranging for an external review of the new processes and of its case-handling time targets. There is no reason for delay. We expect this to be in place by February 2014."
"The board of the LGO is in effect just a small group of senior staff overseeing each other’s work and reporting to themselves. This undermines its effectiveness and limits the opportunities for fresh thinking. The input of independent, external members would help remedy this and add to the transparency and public accountability of the LGO.
Allowing people to appeal against decisions of the Ombudsman would go against the ombudsman model of dispute resolution and undermine the finality it brings. But what we want is external scrutiny of the LGO’s systems to check that the way it carries out its work and provides its services are up to scratch."