PHSO Pressure Group announced their aims and objectives to all members of Parliament this week with the following mailshot. Each of the 649 MPs received either an email or letter from the group. The automated replies were already stating that ‘Parliamentary Protocol’ would prevent MPs from responding unless the correspondence was from a constituent. If you follow this link whatdotheyknow.com/request/parliamentary_protocol you will see that Parliamentary Protocol is a ‘convention’ and not a strict rule. So MPs – the choice is all yours!
Will keep you informed if and when any MP replies.
Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman
As you are aware in a democracy the Ombudsman serves the crucial role of protecting citizens from abuses of power. In 2008 the Ombudsman Ann Abrahams wrote,
‘In particular, I have drawn attention to the original impetus behind the Parliamentary Commissioner Act 1967 and the desire of the Wilson Government to humanise state administration. It was against that background that the Parliamentary Ombudsman was established as an instrument of Parliament in helping to hold the executive to account, in complementing the investigative role of MPs when citizens’ grievances are drawn to their attention and in guaranteeing to citizens an independent source of redress when things go wrong.’
Parliamentary Affairs Vol. 61 No. 4, 2008, 681–693 The Future in International Perspective: The Ombudsman as Agent of Rights, Justice and Democracy.
By appealing to the Ombudsman it should be possible to remedy injustice and improve public services for everyone, which is the remit of PHSO. However, our present Ombudsman service has simply become the ‘dustbin’ so sadly predicted at the time. A dumping ground for persistent complaints.
Rather than guarantee an independent source of redress to citizens the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman turns the tables and provides public bodies with the means of escaping their responsibilities by denying independent investigation on a massive scale. Only 2% of cases are investigated annually and even fewer are resolved in favour of the complainants. At a cost to the taxpayer of over £32 million this is a scandalous situation which cannot be allowed to continue.
Indeed in 2011 the Health Committee found that the Ombudsman service required a complete overhaul if it was to provide an effective appeals process for complainants. http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/health-committee/news/11-06-28-clreoprt-substantive-/ This overhaul is now long overdue.
A group of like-minded individuals, who have all had first hand experience of the dysfunctional Ombudsman service, have formed a Pressure Group. We intend to push for improvements in this service to ensure that the Ombudsman works for the good of the people as intended and not for the convenience of the public services. We have two objectives which can be seen on our website:
- To improve the service for all those who follow, so that each receives a fair and
unbiased investigation, remedy and closure.
- To compel the Ombudsman to thoroughly investigate historic cases where there
has been no satisfactory resolution.
The present Ombudsman service has been corrupted from the original intention. There exists systematic denial and manipulation of the evidence in order to find no case to answer; giving the green light for service providers to act with impunity. The Ombudsman is then unaccountable to members of the public and unaccountable to the Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) for this appalling service. This lack of accountability was clearly demonstrated by Dame Julie Mellor in response to Greg Mulholland at a recent PASC meeting (16.12.13) when she stated,
‘I think we have to be very careful here, Mr Mulholland, in terms of our accountabilities. Parliament intended for us to be accountable for our decisions to the courts and Parliament intended for us to be accountable for our service to Parliament. Therefore, I do not think it would be possible to go through individual cases with you, because our accountability is to the courts.’
It is not acceptable in a democratic society to have an unelected public servant, paid for by public money, unaccountable for the service they deliver. It is not appropriate to expect ordinary people to enter into court proceedings to achieve justice and remedy. Judicial review does not provide for public accountability as it is beyond the reach of most individuals and it is notoriously difficult to win due to the ‘discretion’ clause built into the 1967 Act. This Act must be modified and we would like to see the following points considered.
- If every citizen is to be guaranteed independent redress then all cases presented to the Ombudsman must be investigated. There should be no threshold of evidence required from the complainant as it is the Ombudsman’s role to secure the evidence from all parties.
- All case reviews should be carried out by external assessors and be personally monitored by the Ombudsman herself.
- The discretionary clause in the 1967 Act needs to be replaced with a clear set of guidelines which can be used to hold the Ombudsman to account, including a definition of ‘maladministration’.
- The Ombudsman should be accountable to the public through elected representatives such as PASC and this body should have the power to monitor finance, apply sanctions and enforce recommendations.
- All users of the Ombudsman service should be given the opportunity to complete a customer satisfaction survey and results from this survey should be published by the Ombudsman and by Parliament.
We are sending this notification to you as we need your support to improve our public services, to restore justice and to strengthen democracy; all fundamental principles for anyone in public service. Our campaign aims are directly in line with those of the Cabinet Office as expressed in the recent National Audit Office report, December 2013. Namely; to achieve public service reform, to achieve political and constitutional reform in order to secure greater accountability and to increase transparency in the public sector to ensure that taxpayers can better hold public bodies to account. We are therefore working in harmony with Government and not in opposition.
As parliamentary protocol is only a convention and not a rule, it would be possible for any M.P. to show support for this cause regardless of constituent boundaries. Please contact us by replying to this email email@example.com and let us know your position on this important matter.
PHSO Pressure Group – phsothefacts.com