HC Deb 16 October 2002 vol 390 cc304-5
4. Kevin Brennan (Cardiff, West)

If he will make it his policy to introduce legislation to require local authorities to implement recommendations of reports from the local government ombudsman. [71952]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr. Christopher Leslie)

To maintain the independence of the public sector ombudsmen, the Government do not intend to shift the balance and compel local authorities to implement all ombudsmen reports. Councils are accountable first to their electorates. However, audit and inspection will become more important for local government as the new system of comprehensive performance assessment comes into effect.

Kevin Brennan

Does my hon. Friend agree that, in this era of earned autonomy and modernisation, local authorities should be made to be accountable when citizens successfully show themselves to have been the victims of municipal maladministration?

Mr. Leslie

I certainly agree that local authorities should be held to account. However, they should primarily be held to account by their electorates rather than by putting ombudsmen into a management structure above them. The ombudsmen do not wish to have such binding power, but I understand my hon. Friend's sentiments.

Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)

Will the Minister reconsider this matter? I agree with the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Kevin Brennan). If someone goes through the procedure of going to the local ombudsman and the ombudsman gives advice and makes recommendations, surely the local authority should implement those recommendations. They usually are implemented but, if they are not, does that not make a mockery of the ombudsman's role if he cannot—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. The House is far too noisy. That is unfair to the hon. Gentleman.

Sir Sydney Chapman

I think that I have made my point.

Mr. Leslie

The hon. Gentleman certainly did. The ombudsmen say that they are dissatisfied with only about 3 per cent. of local authority responses to recommendations.

It would not be right to jeopardise the ombudsmen's independence, but I am sure that we all want local authorities to respond fully and comprehensively to the ombudsmen's recommendations.

Mr. Adrian Sanders (Torbay)

There are usually two parts to an ombudsman's recommendations, and local authorities often go along with recommendations to change policies. However, in some cases, ombudsmen recommend financial compensation. What right does the citizen have to receive that compensation when a council says that it is not going to follow an ombudsman's recommendations?

Mr. Leslie

I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, but we must get this in proportion. Local authorities implement fully and satisfactorily the vast majority of ombudsmen's recommendations. Ultimately, if people are not happy with their local council's response, they should hold it to account at the ballot box.