On 25 March the Cabinet Office launched a public consultation on the future of public service Ombudsmen.
We welcome this consultation. It offers an important opportunity for the wider public to participate in the debate and will hopefully represent a significant step towards realising the ambition of a unified ombudsman for all public services.
Public service delivery models have become much more complex since the first Ombudsman in the UK was established in 1967. Many services are now delivered through a combination of public, private and third sector providers. As a result, users are often left confused as to who to complain to if things go wrong and which Ombudsman to turn to if matters haven't been resolved.
We want a unified ombudsman service that covers all public services delivered in England and matters reserved to the UK; one that is better for citizens, better for Parliament and better value for money.
Between ourselves and the Local Government Ombudsman we deal with over 50,000 complaints and enquiries a year, ranging from delays in passport applications to failures in care and treatment in hospitals and care homes. We have not stood still over the past 50 years, constantly developing our service to meet the demands and expectations of our users and working closely together to deliver a joined up approach on those complaints that span both of our jurisdictions. However, there is only so far that we can go without the need for a new legislative framework.
In April 2014 the Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) published its report Time for a People's Ombudsman Service recommending change. We agree with many of their conclusions, and share their ambitious vision for reforming the landscape, including the creation of a new public ombudsman service (POS).
We believe that POS would provide equity of access for citizens, streamlined and seamless services for users, and increased oversight for those holding public services to account. In particular, we are seeking changes that will give:
- one service covering all public services delivered locally and nationally in England and all UK non-devolved services
- citizens the right to choose to come to us directly or through a representative, and in a variety of forms, including by digital communication
- a range of investigative tools and triggers available, enabling us to reach out to those vulnerable and marginalised groups least likely to complain.
We look forward to the outcome of the consultation and to the next Government bringing forward legislation that implements its proposals.