HL Deb 28 November 1996 vol 576 cc26-7WA
Lord Tugendhat

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What conclusions have been reached in the review of the Local Government Ombudsman Service in England.

Earl Ferrers

In February 1996 my right honourable friend the Minister for Local Government, Housing and Urban Regeneration announced that we were proceeding with the second stage of the review—focusing on the efficiency and effectiveness of the Commission for Local Administration in England as an investigatory body—in parallel with consulting interested parties on the wider issues raised about the Commission for Local Administration's future in the review's first stage. In August 1996 the second stage reviewer presented his report to my right honourable friend and to the Chairman of the Commission for Local Administration, and we concluded our consultation.

We have now carefully considered all the recommendations of both stages one and two of the review, together with all the comments which we received from our consultation. The Commission for Local Administration has also considered carefully those recommendations directed to it. We have today arranged for copies of a paper setting out our response to these recommendations to be placed in the Library of the House. We have also arranged for copies of the review's second stage report to be placed in the Library.

On the issues raised by the review's first stage, we have concluded that there needs to be a wholly independent body—an ombudsman—to which citizens who are aggrieved in their dealings with public bodies can turn, if there is to be a guarantee that complaints of maladministration will be fully and equitably investigated. Accordingly, we confirm our earlier provisional view that the Commission for Local Administration's principal role should continue to be as a wholly independent, investigatory body for complaints of maladministration relating to local government in England. We also confirm our earlier view that there should in general continue to be a voluntary approach to the provision of local complaints systems in local government.

The review's second stage concludes that the cost of the Commission for Local Administration is a fraction of the cost of resolving a similar number of complaints through legal processes, and makes a range of recommendations for performance improvements covering issues of accountability, jurisdiction, powers, management systems and financial accountability, and quality of service. We believe that overall these recommendations provide a package of measures for significantly modernising and improving the Local Government Ombudsman service in England, and we intend to take them forward as set out in the paper which we have today placed in the Library.