Nicole Maley reports
ENGLAND'S local government ombudsmen will not press for legislation to make their recommendations enforceable because the majority of their findings are readily accepted by councils, their annual report claims.
The report says half the 359 reports issued by the ombudsmen during the year from April 1993 to March 1994 involved poor communication between councils and their customers.
A further 41 of the reports centred around a lack of communication within local authorities themselves.
It says that although unreasonable delay in taking appropriate action is still the most common cause of "maladministration", the failure of councils to provide adequate in- formation, explanation or advice to their customers has now become the second most frequent problem.
Chair of the Commission for Local Administration in England, barrister Sir David Yardley, says the growth in the number of complaints he has received – 4,471 compared
to 4,223 the previous year – "reflects the increased awareness by people of their right to complain about the services they receive".
During the year, Yardley issued 171 formal reports on investigations, the largest num- ber in any year.
However, he says although there have been a number of instances where councils have "fallen short of the general standard" the commission will not call for legislation to enforce its decisions.
"The remarkable feature of the whole Local Government Ombudsman system set up 20 years ago is that the great majority of findings are readily accepted by those concerned," says Yardley.
"Most councils are scrupulous in implementing the findings of my reports and often go to a great deal of trouble to improve any part of their systems found to be defective.
"My colleagues and I see no reason as yet to press for legislation to make a recommendation enforceable."
Gillian Phillips, chair of the Law Society's Local Government Group, says she agrees with Yardley's assessment of the situation.
"For most authorities ombudsmen matters are taken extremely seriously," says Phillips.
"They go to the highest level within the authority and every effort is made to deal with them fairly promptly.
"The only question that is left is whether legislation is necessary to deal with the tiny minority that don't accept the recommendations."