Public Administration Committee - Fourteenth Report
Time for a People's Ombudsman Service
Time for a People's Ombudsman Service - Public Administration Committee
PASC visited the Netherlands to learn about the National Ombudsman of the Netherlands, and the relationship between that office, the Dutch Government and the Dutch Parliament. A summary of our visit is provided in the Annex.
16. This new approach is similar to that of other ombudsmen. Dr Alex Brenninkmeijer, the National Ombudsman of the Netherlands, told us during our visit to the Netherlands that an ombudsman should look at all complaints that fall within its competence. The Scottish Public Services Ombudsman, Jim Martin, told us that:
we will investigate everything that is fit for my office to look at. If something is out of jurisdiction, we will not do that, and if something comes to us prematurely, we will not do that, but everything else will get some form of investigation.
Summary of findings
· Departments in the Dutch Government were responsible for their own complaints handling, although there were general guidelines to follow. The Ministry of the Interior, which is similar to the Cabinet Office, did not take overall responsibility for complaints handling by government departments.
· The Interior Affairs Committee in the Dutch Parliament held a session each year on the annual report of National Ombudsman. Members of the Committee felt it was not the role of the Committee to interfere in the way the National Ombudsman operated.
· Participants suggested that the professional skills of officials needed to be refreshed so that they saw complaints as a way to change the way an organisation worked. Officials needed to have the backing of politicians and high-level managers to enable them to change an organisation.
· Participants said that in the past 30 years the National Ombudsman had become a well-established institution in Dutch administrative justice, and that one of his most important contributions as an Ombudsman was that he demonstrated that good governance was "much more than following the rules".
· The concept of "fairness" was very important for citizens in the Netherlands. The daily work of National Ombudsman of the Netherlands involved working out what was fair in individual cases—not just what was in the law. He stressed four element of fairness: personal contact; fair treatment; equal footing; and trust in citizens (most citizens were honest and should be treated as such).
· Participants broadly supported the idea of the office of ombudsman having a high profile, in order to increase its impact. The National Ombudsman of the Netherlands writes articles for newspapers, appears on TV, and uses the media to get his message across to the public. His high profile had caused some tension with MPs and some participants highlighted the danger that a high profile ombudsman could start to try and affect policy, which it had no responsibility to do.
· A single public services ombudsman was generally considered as beneficial but there was a danger of scale and creating a very large bureaucracy. Regional ombudsmen were said to provide an opportunity for ombudsmen to work more closely with the services that fall within their remit and area.
· TheNational Ombudsmen of the Netherlands operated direct access in respect of complaints. The "MP filter"in operation in the UK for non-health related complaints to PHSO was viewed as creating additional bureaucracy.
· Participants said that the biggest issue for the National Ombudsman in next decade was how to reach out to the whole population. They suggested that the National Ombudsman of the Netherlands had made progress: for example, he now operated a "National Ombudsman on tour" scheme and visited municipalities of the Netherlands.
Annex: Committee's visit to Netherlands
Programme for visit 5 November 2013