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CONSULTATION ON FUTURE OF LOCAL OMBUDSMAN SERVICE ANNOUNCED

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New proposals to reform the handling of citizens' complaints about local authorities have been published for consul...
New proposals to reform the handling of citizens' complaints about local authorities have been published for consultation by local government minister David Curry.

Mr Curry also launched a new, more detailed study, in the light of these proposals, to look at the efficiency and effectiveness of the local ombudsman service. Commenting yesterday he said:

'The need for an independent body to investigate the public's complaints against local authorities has been questioned. But the case for change has yet to be made.

'What I want to see is a better service for the public. I would like to hear the views of local authorities and others on the report's proposals. And the new study will then help us ensure that we make the right choices for the public.'

In a written answer to a parliamentary question from David Congdon, MP (Croydon North East), Mr Curry told the House of Commons:

'The first stage of the review, in which the need for a local ombudsman service was examined, has been completed. On 30 November 1995 the reviewer - Sir Geoffrey Chipperfield - presented his report to my Rt Hon Friend and to the chairman of the Commission for Local Administration in England, and today I have arranged for copies of the report to be placed in the Library of the House.

'Sir Geoffrey has concluded that the present centralised investigation and review processes of the CLA would not be able to handle effectively the increasing volume of complaints, which he foresaw with the growth of citizens awareness of their rights and remedies. He has proposed, therefore, a new complaints regime, under which each local authority would be statutorily obliged to operate its own local complaints system, involving both internal review and an external reviewer or adjudicator.

'The role of any independent, central body, such as the CLA, would be limited to the validation and monitoring of each local authority's system; such a body would not have any role to investigate specific complaints.

'We have carefully considered Sir Geoffrey's Report, together with the CLA's representations on it. We recognise the importance of all local authorities having their own effective local complaints systems, although we are not persuaded of the need to seek legislation imposing a new statutory duty on local authorities to establish and maintain such systems. Nor do we believe that the case has been made that there is at present no continued need for the CLA's role as a wholly independent body to investigate complaints of maladministration.

'We have concluded, therefore, to proceed with the second stage of the review, which will focus particularly on the efficiency and effectiveness of the CLA's procedures as an investigatory body. I have today asked Andrew Whetnall, a senior official in my department, to undertake this stage of the review.

'I propose that he should be assisted by the Advisory Group, including representatives of the local authority associations and citizens advice bureaux, which we established for the first stage of the review. In parallel, I am inviting comments from local authorities and all interested parties on the wider issues raised in the review's first stage. In the light of these comments and the findings of the Review's Second Stage we intend to take our decisions on the CLA's future.'

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