Scottish public service ombudsman issues funding warning

1 Apr 16

Scotland’s public services ombudsman has warned the Scottish Parliament that he may need additional funding to meet a rising tide of complaints from the public.

Setting out his strategic plan for the next four years, Jim Martin recorded a sixth successive year of increased caseload – up to nearly 4,900 in the face of a 15% cut to his department’s budget over the past four years. He said that the increase may be a welcome trend, reflecting greater public readiness to question service quality, but that it must be matched by adequate resources.

“I believe we have maximised any major business efficiencies we can with our existing resource base through the many initiatives we have implemented,” Martin stated. “Therefore, if demand and complexity continue to grow and additional investigations resources are not forthcoming, we will need to consider measures to manage the volume and complexity of cases.”

He noted that the formal remit of the office has been expanded over the past five years, to include prisons and water provision, and that further extensions lie ahead, notably decisions by the new Scottish Welfare Fund, the Scottish Government’s plan to allocated every Scottish child a Named Person in officialdom, and issues arising from the merger of health and social care provision.

Though some additional funding is likely to cover the new responsibilities, Martin said his office may also have to consider bringing in procedural changes either to reduce the caseload though new tests of proportionality and significance, or to extend the target time for processing cases.

Around half the cases that reach the ombudsman are upheld, despite having already passed through the complaints procedure of the authority against whom the complaint is made, and the ombudsman’s office has repeatedly stressed the need for departments to get better at pre-empting, avoiding and resolving public grievances.

Martin, a former general secretary of the main Scottish teachers’ union the Educational Institute of Scotland, also plans to establish a small pilot unit to support authorities in implementing reforms in response to the 1,500 or so recommendations his office makes every year following cases brought by the public.

“This will benefit both the public and authorities and, over time, should reduce complains to [the ombudsman] about those service failings that the unit addresses,” Martin suggested.

  • Keith Aitken
    Keith Aitken

    covers Scottish affairs for Public Finance from Edinburgh. He was formerly economics editor and chief leader writer on The Scotsman and now has a busy freelance career as a writer, broadcaster and event chair.

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