FORMER local authority solicitor Elizabeth Tompson has been appointed as the internal ombudsman to Cambridge City Council.
Tompson, who left her position as lecturer in law at Cambridge Business College (CBC) to take up the post, has signed a 12-month contract. She hopes to continue teaching part-time.
As ombudsman she is able to award "modest" compensation and recommend an apology in a range of cases, including applications for council housing, planning matters and council tax disputes.
"With my history in local government I obviously had the necessary background knowledge for the job," says Tompson. "Also, I haven't been involved in the history of the council at all, so I can look at it in a more impartial way. If I was an employee of the council I would look less independent."
Tompson describes her job as a "supportive role – providing help to people who, in other circumstances, might not have the confidence to make a complaint".
"I have two roles really," she says. "The first one is to investigate fairly complex complaints, usually against the council, which haven't been resolved satisfactorily at a departmental level.
"My second role is to act as an advocate for people who are not very confident or able to make a complaint about the council. With those people I might get involved at a much earlier stage, helping them to frame their complaint or deciding whether they have in fact a grievance against the council."
Articled at local firm Vinters – now Taylor Vinters – Tompson qualified in 1975 and moved to the London Borough of Islington as an assistant solicitor.
The council's assistant chief executive, Andrea Hill, says the role of internal ombudsman is "very different" for local authorities and ties in with Cambridge's citizen's charter.
"We needed somebody who possessed skills in advocacy and clearly, with elizabeth's legal background, she had that," says Hill.