COMMISSION FOR LOCAL ADMINISTRATION IN ENGLAND
Minutes of the meeting of the Commission held at Millbank Tower, Millbank,
London SW1P 4QP on Tuesday 10 May 2005 at 11.30am
Mr T Redmond (Chairman)
Ms A Abraham
Mr N H Jones
Ms H J Pook (item 4)
Ms J Feeney (item 4)
Mr D G Nice (item 6)
Miss A Whitehorn (item 7)
Mr A L Creech
Apologies for absence had been received from Patricia Thomas.
Matters arising from the minutes of 12 April Commission meeting
The minutes of the 12 April meeting were confirmed as an accurate record and signed
by Tony Redmond.
There were no matters arising.
Commission PIs: April 2005
CLA 1433 had been circulated. The following points were noted:
The number of new complaints received by York had increased substantially in the
month of April (up 6.3% compared with April 2004), in contrast to the decline in
London and Coventry (down 8.3% and 8.9% respectively). Michael King said that
the York office had analysed possible reasons for the increase, but none could be
discerned because it was spread across all local authorities and all complaint
subjects. This led to discussion about the current position on investigator vacancies
within the offices, and the number of appointable candidates in each office’s
investigator pool. The Commission AGREED
that the Deputies should make the
first of their reports on the workload/resources position in each of the offices at the
next Commission meeting on 7 June.
Peter MacMahon said that the number of unallocated complaints (182 unallocated
after more than 4 weeks at 30 April) remained a significant issue for the London
office, which would be reviewed by the London Management Team at its next
The number of calls to the advice line had increased in the past month; this might
indicate an upturn in complaints. Nigel Karney said that, based on the end results of
2004/05, the link between calls and complaints was unclear. He would ask the Head
of Policy and Research to consider the matter when she takes up her post in June.
Annual Report 2004/05
CLA 1434 had been circulated. The Commission’s new Head of Communications,
Jackie Feeney, was welcomed to the meeting. The Commission considered the final text
of the 2004/05 Annual Report in the light of the LGA’s comments (tabled at the
meeting); the summary annual report; and draft press release.
The Commission noted the LGA’s comments and AGREED
i. The draft Annual Report, with amendments to take account of the following points:
The Commission and its role
Change the heading Our vision is
to Our Public Value vision statement is
Chapter 1: Chairman’s introduction
For consistency with the rest of the Report, change These decisions included
127 reports issued by the Ombudsmen
to We issued reports in respect of 167
Amend the following sentence as indicated: The Local Government Ombudsmen
and Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman are also working with the
Chapter 2: Accessibility
Change Each year more and more people have brought their complaints to us
Over the years more people have brought their complaints to us
Omit the third paragraph beginning Of course, merely being accessible would be
little use if we were not effective too.
Chapter 3: Business Goals and performance
Explain that the average cost per complaint in 2004/05 (£592) was slightly less
than the previous year’s figure, taking account of inflation.
Move the total row in Table 4: customer complaints
to the top of the table.
from the sentence So, every four years, we commission a large
customer satisfaction study…
Chapter 6: Mrs Thomas-the final chapter
Change the chapter title to Mrs Thomas – reflections on 20 years as a Local
Appendix 2: council response times
Not to update the 2001/02 figures quoted in the 2001/02 Annual Report.
ii The draft text of the summary annual report, with the following changes:
Review the wording The figure of £1.1 million represents the minimum we
(to eg “obtained for complainants”),
with the same change to
Chapter 5 of the full Annual Report.
Change the paragraph heading Change Agenda
to Public Value Agenda
Review the paragraph beginning Although there is no evidence that we are
failing to reach minority ethnic communities in general
changes to the same paragraph in the Annual Report).
The draft press release, subject to:
Including details on the number and type of councils where the Ombudsmen
had recommended that they review their policies or procedures.
Omitting the second paragraph beginning Financial compensation is not the
only remedy available...
Refer to the £87.2m reimbursed to complainants as a result of the S117 Mental
Health Act Special Report.
Steering the Public Value Agenda
CLA 1430 had been circulated for the 12 April Commission meeting, but withdrawn
pending the Staff Event.
Nigel Karney explained that, at their Awayday the previous week, the Deputies had
reflected on how to take forward the Public Value Agenda and issues arising from the
Staff Event. He emphasised that these ideas were still in development, but the Deputies
had felt that it would be helpful if they could obtain the Commission’s initial views on
them, in advance of the meeting of Staff Event facilitators arranged for the following
Nigel Karney tabled a number of diagrams/bullet points which illustrated the Deputies’
ideas. He apologised that, because of the short timescale, he had not been able to
circulate a paper in advance. He outlined the Deputies’ ideas as follows:
This was subsequently amended to Mrs Thomas – reflections on 20 years
on the advice of the Annual
There are already a number of distinct areas of work which are linked to taking
forward the Public Value Agenda and to organisational development. Some of these
are linked to existing working groups and most are either led by a Head of Service
in Corporate Services or an Assistant Ombudsman (eg IT, Equality and Diversity,
Quality and Efficiency, Investigative Practice).
A similar approach could be taken in other areas in order to provide a
comprehensive and clearer structure for programming development activities
(termed “Programme Areas” by the Deputies).
The other areas might include Role and Influence, Knowledge Management,
Finance and Facilities, and Advice Calls.
The common features for all these Programme Areas would be a development
programme; a leader (Head of Service/AO) who would ensure that the Programme
is delivered, and a member of senior management (the Chairman and/or Deputy)
who would closely monitor the plans and advise the leader.
In most Programme Areas there would be a support/scrutiny working group, chaired
by one of the sponsors, and the Deputies suggest that in some Areas there would
also be a lead AO in each office with special responsibility for the Area (this is
already the case with External Communications). This would fit well with the
emerging conclusions of the recent audit of working groups by Sayers Vincent.
Under this model, the Programme Areas would be regularly reported to the
Commission for approval and review, and to the Deputies Group to consider
progress and provide direction.
The Deputies suggest that the arrangements for Commission and Deputies Group
meetings might need to be changed in order to accommodate the focus on
Programme Areas alongside individual items of business.
The Deputies suggest that there are two distinct themes emerging from the Staff
Event – these are the “Provocative Propositions” produced by the workshop
discussions, and a “one organisation” spirit. The Deputies propose that the
Provocative Propositions should be considered through the Programme Area
groupings as they had outlined, so that the Propositions could be considered
alongside other work already in progress. The Commission would then consider
which Propositions should be taken further.
The Deputies also propose that a “One Organisation Group” should be appointed,
comprising a cross-section of staff from the three offices with responsibility for
planning/organising special measures to develop and maintain a “one organisation”
The Commission commented that it would need more time to consider the Deputies’
ideas in detail (especially in the light of Patricia Thomas’s absence), but it did make the
following initial observations:
It was important to show clearly, within the model, the Commission’s central role as
the primary strategy/policy making body for the organisation, with stewardship of
If the model was adopted, the Commission recognised that it may need to review its
meeting arrangements. One possibility would be to have a full day meeting every
quarter (say), in place of the regular meeting to focus on the wider strategic issues
facing the organisation. Ann Abraham said that, in the PHSO, in order to reduce the
amount of detailed operational information put to its management board, it will in
future be receiving a quarterly ‘stewardship’ report giving composite performance
There was a danger that the focus on internal working groups would mean that the
programmes would be too “inward facing” and the model needed to ensure an
external focus in many of the Areas.
The Commission AGREED
The Deputies’ ideas, as developed in the light of the discussion, could be circulated
to Staff Event facilitators for their views.
ii A paper based on these ideas and views from the facilitators should be put to the
Commission for discussion at its 7 June meeting.
LGA 1974 Schedule 5 (5)
CLA 1436 had been circulated. The Ombudsmen considered their jurisdiction in
relation to complaints about actions which have taken place in schools. David Nice had
raised this with them because inconsistencies in approach had emerged from a recent
review of case files he had undertaken as part of the quality control initiative. It had
seemed to him important that there should be consistency of approach, particularly since
it would be helpful for staff to have clear guidance. It had not so far proved possible to
obtain agreement on this in his individual consultations with the Ombudsmen.
David Nice explained the two possible approaches to the Ombudsmen’s jurisdiction in
this matter that might be adopted, and the way forward he had proposed in his paper ie
to adopt the less restrictive approach to jurisdiction, but to provide for the exercise of
discretion under section 26 (10) not to investigate a complaint where it was clear that
the likely benefit which might result would be insignificant and therefore an
investigation would not be justified.
In the discussion, the Ombudsmen noted the arguments for each of the options, and
considered that it would be prudent to obtain a Counsel’s opinion before coming to a
final view. The Ombudsmen therefore AGREED
to request that David Nice, in
consultation with Anne Whitehorn, obtains a Counsel’s opinion on this matter, and then
to bring this back to the Ombudsmen for further consideration at a future Commission
There were two items of confidential business:
An annual report presented by Stephen Jones on the superannuation benefits of
retired Local Commissioners, which the Commission
noted (CLA 1437)
A confidential legal matter brought to the Commission’s attention by its
Legal Adviser, Anne Whitehorn, concerning Mayer Brown Rowe and Maw. A
separate, confidential minute was taken of the Commission’s discussion.
Date of next meeting
The next meeting will be held at 11.30am
on Tuesday 7 June at the York office.