Public Administration Select Committee

Session 2002-03

Press Notice No.8


PASC ATTACKS "DISTURBING" EVIDENCE OF GOVERNMENT ADMINISTRATIVE FAILURE

Report names worst offenders for inefficiency and lack of openness

The Immigration and Nationality Directorate, the Child Support Agency and the Legal Services Commission are criticised for inefficiency in a report published today by PASC-the House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee.  Based on the work of the Parliamentary Ombudsman, the report details a wide range of failings in government departments, ranging from "archaic" IT systems to undue delays in responding to inquiries about the case of the Hinduja brothers and Peter Mandelson MP.

PASC lists what it calls "disturbing evidence about routine administrative failure, departmental indifference and political intrusion into administrative matters", and calls on the Government to act quickly to improve the situation.

The report criticises the Home Office for its attitude to the Code on Access to Government Information-often known as the "open government" code.  The department rejected a ruling by the Ombudsman that it should divulge information on the number of times Ministers had declared their interests.  This was the first time ever that a department had refused to accept such a ruling, a development described by the Committee as "worrying".  PASC notes the evidence of the then Cabinet Secretary that the decision to withhold the information had been "taken at the highest level".

There is also criticism of the Home Office response to the Ombudsman's request for papers concerning the case of the Hinduja brothers and Peter Mandelson MP.  Multiple failures to reply to the Ombudsman's letters, long delays and the provision of incorrect files lead the Committee to conclude that "Even if, as seems likely, this was more a case of cock-up than conspiracy, it does not excuse the administrative failures of the department".

The report also calls on the Government to move speedily to legislate to reform the wider public sector ombudsman system, including the establishment of a single "gateway" for complaints.

Commenting today, Tony Wright MP,  Committee Chairman, said:

"Such examples of incompetence and evasion shows the need for a strong and effective system of complaint and redress in the public services.  The Ombudsman exercises much-needed quality control and strengthens the hand of the citizen in dealing with the state.

"If public service reform is to have any meaning, government must root out maladministration and delay.  The evidence we heard shows how far some departments have to go.  It also shows that government must really deliver on openness, resisting the temptation to seek to avoid political embarrassment.

"I hope that the Ombudsman will continue to be a vigorous and vigilant watchdog of the public interest.  My Committee will do all in its power to support that work".