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CURRY REJECTS PLAN TO ABOLISH OMBUDSMAN

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A proposal to force councils to set up their own complaints systems to replace the local government ombudsman has b...
A proposal to force councils to set up their own complaints systems to replace the local government ombudsman has been rejected by the government.

LGC revealed last year (20 October 1995) that the government-initiated review by former permanent secretary Sir Geoffrey Chipperfield recommended the ombudsman should be abolished. This was despite opposition from councils, the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives, Citizens' Advice Bureaux and the National Consumer Council.

In the first part of the government's review, Sir Geoffrey said the ombudsman service, also known as the Commission for Local Administration, was unlikely to be able to cope with the increasing number of complaints against council services.

In 1990 the CLA dealt with 8,733 complaints at a cost of £2.6 million. In 1995 it handled 15,525 complaints at a cost of £6.7m.

Sir Geoffrey said the CLA usurped councillors' responsibilities to deal with maladministration in their councils.

He said a statutorily imposed local complaints system backed up by an external adjudicator should replace the CLA.

He also recommended the setting up of a central body, answerable to Parliament, to monitor and audit the new complaints system. It would have been able to hear appeals against the external adjudicator, although only on grounds of procedural mistakes.

On Monday local government minister David Curry agreed councils should set up complaints mechanisms, but rejected all of Sir Geoffrey's recommendations.

'We are not persuaded of the need to seek legislation imposing a new statutory duty on local authorities to establish and maintain such systems,' Mr Curry told the Commons. 'Nor do we believe 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.'

He said a DoE official, Andrew Whetnall, should take over the second part of the review into the CLA's effectiveness and efficiency.

The local authority associations welcomed the government's decision.

'An external independent adjudicator must remain as a final court of appeal if the public and local authorities are to have confidence in the complaints procedure,' Association of Metropolitan Authorities chair Sir Jeremy Beecham said.

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