After a long wait, the Ombudsman Bill takes a big step towards becoming law

(Title Image: Public Services Ombudsman)

At a Glance Guide

Public Services Ombudsman Bill as introduced (summary)
Stage 1 report (summary)

The Bill:

  • Gives the Public Services Ombudsman the power to carry out their own investigations and to set out how complaints should be handled across the Welsh public sector.
  • Aims to make the complaints process less intimidating and easier by allowing people to give oral evidence instead of having to do everything in writing.
  • Extends the Ombudsman’s reach to include private care homes and private healthcare providers.

Major Changes at Stage 2

The Ombudsman Bill has had a long and torturous history, being introduced as far back as October 2017.

Stage 2 proceedings were undertaken by the Finance Committee, who also introduced the Bill, with the member in charge being the Chair of the Finance Committee, Llyr Gruffydd AM (Plaid, North Wales). Here’s a more thorough summary from the Members Research Service (pdf).

  • The terms on which the Ombudsman can begin an investigation on their own have been made clear, including a “reasonable suspicion of maladministration”. They’ll also have to set out their reasoning for launching an investigation in writing to the Senedd as well as issue a statement when they decide not to pursue an investigation.
  • Amendments to protect the Auditor General and listed bodies from defamation.
  • A review of the Act will need to be published by the relevant Senedd Committee within 5 years of the Bill becoming law.

The Key Amendments at Stage 3

Amendment 8 – Llyr Gruffydd AM
Makes sure the Ombudsman has a “clear and efficient way” of recovering costs from health service providers where those providers have obstructed the Ombudsman’s work.
Vote: Agreed unanimously

Amendment 30 – Llyr Gruffydd AM
The Ombudsman will be able to keep any recovered costs as a result of obstruction of an investigation by a health provider.
Vote: Agreed unanimously

Amendment 39 – Suzy Davies AM (Con, South Wales West)
Instead of a Senedd Committee publishing the 5-year review, the Senedd as a whole would do it instead and would have the power to delegate the task to a committee.
Vote: Agreed unanimously

Amendment 46 – Mark Isherwood AM (Con, North Wales)
When undertaking an investigation, the Ombudsman will have to consider whether the authority or body under investigation has had regard for the Nolan Principles of Public Life; selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership.
Vote: Amendment withdrawn
Reason for Withdrawal: The role of the Ombudsman is to investigate service failure, not whether public bodies are complying with ethical standards.

Amendment 47 – Mark Isherwood AM
The Ombudsman’s draft complaints handling principles will need to be approved by a Senedd vote within two months of publication.
Vote: Rejected – 11 for, 36 against
Reason for Rejection: It would be unfair for the politically-neutral Ombudsman to table a document not knowing if they have political support or not and whilst they’re unable to influence proceedings.

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