(Title Image: Public Services Ombudsman)
Following amendments to the Public Services Ombudsman Bill last week, yesterday afternoon AMs voted on the final version of the law, which will expand the powers of the Public Services Ombudsman – particularly their ability to carry out investigations under their own initiative – as well as ensuring the evidence gathering process during investigations is more accessible.
The member in charge, Chair of the Finance Committee, Llyr Gruffydd AM (Plaid, North Wales), said this marked the end of almost four years of work, starting with a committee inquiry in 2015 which recommended changes to how the Ombudsman worked.
Mark Isherwood AM (Con, North Wales) praised the non-partisan approach to the law, which had broad support from across the Senedd. His amendment calling for complaints to take into account whether bodies or individuals have adhered to the Nolan Principle of Public Life was unsuccessful – something he regretted – but the Tories would support the Bill.
Finance Minister & Trefnydd, Rebecca Evans (Lab, Gower), was happy for the Welsh Government to support the Bill:
“The Ombudsman helps those people who have been let down by services and haven’t received the level of service that they’re entitled to expect. This Bill will support access to the Ombudsman’s services for vulnerable people, including, for the first time, those who have been let down by private healthcare companies. It grants the Ombudsman the new powers to investigate systemic problems on their own initiative where there is evidence of widespread, repetitive and deep-rooted problems, and it will also allow the Ombudsman to play a leading role in improving standards in complaints handling across the public sector.”
– Finance Minister, Rebecca Evans
The sole objection came from Neil McEvoy AM (Ind, South Wales Central). He said Wales was increasingly doing “politics by tribunal”. He said the Ombudsman system lacked integrity and the Ombudsman themselves lacked accountability. He also
“The local government ombudsman in Wales is used as a political weapon to stamp out the sense, to stop questions being asked, and it’s a way of trying to exert control over politicians. I will oppose this legislation because this office of the Ombudsman….is used in a highly undemocratic way, and I will not support this legislation.”
– Neil McEvoy AM
Julie Morgan AM (Lab, Cardiff North), Lee Waters AM (Lab, Llanelli) and Jane Hutt AM (Lab, Vale of Glamorgan) all abstained.