The work of the Local Government Ombudsman: Government Response to the Committee's Third Report of Session 2012-13 - Communities and Local Government Committee Contents


Appendix: Government Response


Introduction

The Government welcomes that the Committee decided to hold the inquiry into the work of the Local Government Ombudsman and in particular that it took evidence from both Dr Jane Martin and Anne Seex, the two Local Government Ombudsmen and the Chairman and Vice-Chairman respectively of the Commission for Local Administration in England. The Committee's inquiry, and particularly calling the two Ombudsmen to give evidence, was a visible demonstration of the accountability of the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) to Parliament.

The Committee's report sees accountability and transparency as key to the work of the LGO. The Government shares this view and believes that the appearance of both Ombudsmen before the Select Committee annually to give evidence would contribute significantly to increasing the accountability and transparency of the LGO's work. Such an annual appearance would also give the Committee the opportunity to examine what progress has been made in the past year on transforming the LGO.

The Committee's report recognises the need, to which the LGO is strongly committed, to continue its transformation into an organisation that in today's circumstances is well placed to provide the public with swift and effective redress when they are let down by local authorities or other local service providers.

This accords with the Government's own view. In his written evidence to the Committee the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government described how the top management of the LGO is being reshaped. He also set out three further major elements of reform that were necessary - first, there needs to be a comprehensive restructuring and downsizing of the LGO's staff; secondly, all the LGO's activities need to be moved on to a single site which provides best value for money; and thirdly, the LGO's processes for handling complaints need to be wholly re-engineered with the focus on those cases involving serious service failure. Substantive progress is now being made on all these elements of reform which will continue throughout this Spending Review period ending 2015.

The Government understands that the LGO will be responding in detail to the Committee's report and recommendations. Below are the Government's responses to those recommendations directed specifically to it.

Chief Operating Officer

THE COMMITTEE'S COMMENTS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

We request that in responding to our Report the Government and the LGO set out the arrangements and timetable for appointing the new Chief Operating Officer as well as setting out his or her responsibilities. (Paragraph 36)

THE GOVERNMENT'S RESPONSE:

In his written evidence to the Committee the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government explained that in April 2012 he gave approval for the LGO to recruit a Chief Operating Officer who will assume the roles of Chief Executive and Accounting Officer for the LGO.

The making of the appointment of the new Chief Operating Officer is properly a matter for the LGO rather than Government. DCLG officials have been discussing with the LGO the approach the LGO proposes to take for this recruitment. The LGO have explained that they envisage this Chief Operating Officer, whom they are proposing to title 'Commission Operating Officer', will be responsible for the effective operation of the Commission, managing the budget, liaising with DCLG, acting as Secretary and principal corporate adviser to the Commission and DCLG's nominated Accounting Officer; in addition he or she will be responsible for ensuring that effective procedures for handling complaints about the LGO are maintained.

In accordance with Treasury controls on spending, the Department gave on 10 September 2012 approval to the LGO to advertise the post of Commission Operating Officer in the national press. This reflects the importance of the role, central to the LGO achieving its aim of being a high performing organisation. Following advertisement the recruitment process will be managed by the LGO with a senior DCLG official involved in the selection in recognition that the successful candidate is to be nominated as Accounting Officer.

The Government's expectation is that the LGO will have successfully recruited a candidate to be in post from early in 2013.

Implementation of the Strategic Business Review

THE COMMITTEE'S COMMENTS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

In responding to our Report we recommend that the Government explain how it will monitor the implementation of the reorganisation at the Commission. (Paragraph 43)

THE GOVERNMENT'S RESPONSE:

The transformation of the LGO is being monitored in a number of ways.

To facilitate the successful transformation of the LGO, a joint DCLG/LGO Transformation Group was established in May. The joint group is chaired by the DCLG Director, Local Government Policy, and attended by senior DCLG officials as well as the Chairman and senior officials from the LGO. Meeting once a month, it is the principal liaison meeting between the DCLG and the LGO for all matters relating to the LGO's transformation. In particular the joint Group:

  • considers the comprehensive transformation progress plan drawn up by the LGO, to enable management of interdependencies between DCLG and the LGO;
  • considers the comprehensive risk register and issues and decisions log produced by the LGO each month;
  • advises the LGO on how the clear and comprehensive evidence and justification which will be needed in order for the DCLG to take decisions on resources for transition costs might be demonstrated, and on the necessary associated approval processes for the LGO to incur these costs; and
  • facilitates the approval of the decisions necessary for the LGO successfully to implement its transformation.

In addition, there are regular monthly liaison meetings between DCLG officials and LGO officials. These meetings are focused on the day-to-day operation of the LGO but can and do include matters relating to transformation. The Chairman of the LGO meets with senior civil servants in DCLG on a quarterly basis. Transformation matters are discussed at these meetings as a matter of course.

As the transformation process progresses these meetings will be a forum through which DCLG will be able to continue to monitor both progress on implementing the planned transformation and on the outcomes being secured as a result of those reforms.

There is also ad hoc scrutiny of the transformation process as part of the operation of Treasury spending controls covering redundancy, recruitment and accommodation issues. This scrutiny process has involved the estimated costs of the transformation process being scrutinised by the DCLG Investment Sub Committee.

Updating the Grant Memorandum

THE COMMITTEE'S COMMENTS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

While the lack of progress in updating the 1999 Grant Memorandum may arise from the state of uncertainty since 2010, we consider it unacceptable that the LGO should not be clear about its relationship with, and responsibilities to, DCLG. We would go further to say that it is of particular importance in such a period that the relationship and responsibilities should be comprehensively and accurately defined. They can then be revised when the situation changes. We recommend that as a matter of urgency the Government finalise the arrangements for updating and superseding the 1999 Grant Memorandum. (Paragraph 47)

THE GOVERNMENT'S RESPONSE:

The Government agrees entirely on the importance of having the relationship and responsibilities of the DCLG and LGO towards one another comprehensively and accurately defined.

That is why in June 2011 DCLG decided that following up-to-date best practice all aspects of its relationship with the LGO should be codified in a Framework Document. Such a document would supersede the Grant Memorandum that provided the basis of the financial relationship between DCLG and the LGO.

The context of that decision was that following the introduction of new Grant-in-Aid arrangements for the LGO in 2009-10, discussions had begun between DCLG and LGO about updating the 1999 Grant Memorandum. In April 2011 DCLG wrote to the LGO putting in place a new Grant Memorandum which was operative from 1 April 2011, and remains in place as the basis for the current financial relationship between DCLG and the LGO. Whilst the LGO accepted the 2011 Grant Memorandum as the basis for their current financial arrangements, the LGO had concerns about that memorandum in relation to certain of its provisions, particularly about the role and status of the LGO and the operational delegations made to it. In early June 2011 the LGO requested that a Framework Document be developed that would both replace the Grant Memorandum and cover more broadly the full relationship between the LGO and DCLG.

Work has progressed on drawing up a full and detailed Framework Document that both accurately sets out the status, roles and delegations the LGO has consistent with the applicable legislation, the Government's current Treasury spending controls, and the Government's policies and processes for managing relations with Arms Length Bodies. A draft of the final Framework Document was sent to the LGO on 11 September for consideration at the meeting of Commissioners on 18 September, with the expectation that the LGO will be able to agree a Framework Document that can be formally put in place by October 2012.

Department for Communities and Local Government

October 2012



 
previous page contents


© Parliamentary copyright 2012
Prepared 24 October 2012