Call for Ombudsman reform

Helen Sage reports

The Local Government Ombudsman would probably be found guilty of maladministration if he investigated himself, the Association of Council Secretaries and Solicitors (Acses) has claimed.

Acses president John Hartas has accused the Local Government Ombudsman of overstepping his jurisdiction in a submission which he has made to the Government’s review of the Commission for Local Administration in England.

He said the Ombudsman’s interpretation of legal issues was “sometimes questionable” while decisions were often made in favour of the complainant without conclusive evidence.

“If the Ombudsman investigated himself he would probably be found guilty of maladministration,” said Hartas.

He suggested:

The Ombudsman service be made more efficient by employing tighter time-scales: “It is very frustrating to rush to meet the Ombudsman’s deadlines only to hear nothing for several months. The process tends to become excessively legalistic and complicated.”

More open and fair decision making.

A clearer definition of the parameters of the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction.

The report did urge, however, that the Ombudsman be retained as an independent adjudicator.

Hartas said: “Various professional bodies and local authority associations have consistently recognised the value and integrity of the institution at a national level.”

Last year Acses argued against former permanent secretary Sir Geoffrey Chipperfield’s recommendation to abolish the service.