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‘Don’t throw out the rule book’ in the face of budget pressures warns ombudsman

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO) has challenged councils not to “throw out the rule book” as they redesign their services in the face of widespread budget cuts and service pressures.

The new report from the LGSCO has revealed how the “stark reality of huge changes” made by councils over the last decade has affected the complaints it’s received.

The ‘Under Pressure’ report is based on nearly 40 case studies in which the ombudsman has identified “systematic problems stemming from councils changing the way they providing services.”

Ombudsman Michael King said: “While I appreciate the challenges councils are dealing with, we cannot make concessions for failures attributed to budget pressures and must continue to hold authorities to account against relevant legislation, standards, guidance, and their own policies.”

“The way councils have adapted and innovated in the face of huge challenges is to be admired. But the lesson from this report is for councils to get the basics right and not throw out the rule book when working under pressure.

“The core principles of good administration are more important than ever when undergoing major transformation.”

The ombudsman’s report found four repeated themes which it says councils need to look out for to ensure ineffective planning for change doesn’t lead to service failure.

It suggests accommodating longer backlogs, reviewing eligibility criteria, using new partnerships and delivery arrangements, and restructuring and redesigning services.

One of the case studies found that a council’s policy for investigating noise nuisance was effectively rationing a statutory service by requiring more than three different people to complain about the same issue before investigating.

In this case, the council has revised its policy to bring it in line with statutory requirements as a result of the ombudsman’s recommendations, allowing more than 6,000 people who had previously complained and been ignored the chance to raise concerns.

The ombudsman says it is increasingly having to probe whether service failures in individual cases point to faulty policies and practices, and had to make 21% more recommendations to local authorities to make service improvements this year than last.

King added: “We don’t claim to have all the answers in this report. We are one piece in a complicated jigsaw – but we hope that our unique perspective, based on some people’s real-life experiences, can help to share learning and stimulate wider public policy debate about the issues.

“Some of the pitfalls to avoid when redesigning services include ensuring changed services continue to meet statutory levels and timescales, or making sure discretionary powers are not replaced by a one-size fits all approach.”


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