The Public Administration Select Committee is publishing two reports on the appointment and the salary of the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, the second of which recommends that the government’s motion setting the salary of the new appointee should set out a new procedure to protect the independence and standing of the office.
The first report endorses the choice of Dame Julie Mellor as the new Ombudsman and strongly welcomes the new selection process PASC called for which, for the first time, has been primarily led by the House of Commons rather than the Government.
The second report examines how the remuneration arrangements for the post have been arrived at and how it should be different in future. The Government has moved away from the established practice which pegged the Ombudsman’s salary to that of a High Court Judge and introduced a salary range instead. PASC describes this decision as "arbitrary", and concluded "This places the prospective Ombudsman in an invidious position".
In her pre-appointment hearing, Dame Julie Mellor said: ”Going forward, one suggestion would be that the Chair of this Committee and the Prime Minister agree before the recruitment exercise, what the salary should be and what criteria they are using to determine that.”The Committee concurred with this view and their report concludes that, in future, the salary of the Ombudsman should be agreed between the Chair of PASC and the Prime Minister, in the same way as the government legislated for the Comptroller and Auditor General, and that the terms should be set before the start of the recruitment process. PASC is insisting that this should be included in the Commons motion which will set the salary of the new Ombudsman.
Mr Bernard Jenkin MP Chair of PASC said:
"I am glad my Committee has endorsed the choice of Dame Julie Mellor as the new Ombudsman. Dame Julie amply demonstrated her qualities of independence and determination necessary to do this job.
I would like to pay tribute to Ann Abraham who has done an outstanding job as Ombudsman in the finest traditions of public service and has always been of great assistance to PASC."
On the salary arrangements, Mr Jenkin said
"We recognise and accept the need for restraint in salaries for the most senior and highly paid public sector officials but we regret the Government’s insistence on moving away from the established arrangements without prior reference to the House.
The Government should use the opportunity presented by the debate on the motion to appoint the new Ombudsman to rectify this situation for the future. Our report concludes that the case for this is ‘unanswerable.’ I have made it clear that we will table an amendment to the government motion if they will not agree, but I am sure this will not be necessary."
Copies of the Reports can be ordered from The Stationery Office (Tel: 0845 702 3474) or from the Parliamentary Bookshop (Tel: 020 7219 3890). It can also be viewed on our website from the day of publication at: http://www.parliament.uk/pasc