Guest blog by Llyr Gruffydd, Chair of Finance Committee, National Assembly for Wales . This article first appeared in the Western Mail.
This afternoon, 20 March 2019, the National Assembly will vote to approve the Public Services Ombudsman (Wales) Bill. If the Bill is approved, it will go forward for Royal Assent and the provisions will become law in Wales.
The Ombudsman in Wales has a vital role in ensuring any member of the public who believes they have suffered injustice, hardship or service failure by a public body is able to make a complaint. The Ombudsman’s service is free, impartial and independent of the Welsh Government.
The types of complaints the Ombudsman can receive include ambulances taking too long to arrive; failing to find the right education for children with additional needs; social housing not being repaired properly, amongst many other issues.
The Finance Committee introduced this Bill because we believe the Ombudsman’s role should be strengthened to improve social justice and protect the most vulnerable in society. This is particularly pertinent in a society where the most vulnerable people are often most reliant on public services.
The Bill will achieve this by making it easier for people to complain, removing the barrier that a complaint must be in writing. People should not be discriminated against or put off from complaining. People will be able to complain orally or through British Sign Language and maybe, in future through other digital technologies. This will help vulnerable and deprived members of society.
The Bill will also allow the Ombudsman to start his own investigations without receiving a formal complaint where there is evidence to suggest there could be a wider public interest issue. People are often reluctant or scared to come forward so they can complain anonymously and if the strict criteria is satisfied the Ombudsman can investigate.
Currently, a person has to make separate complaints to different organisations for public and private health treatment. The Bill allows the Ombudsman to consider both the private and public elements, if without doing so, the Ombudsman is unable to completely investigate the relevant action by the public service provider. This will be a fairer process giving answers to whether a person received appropriate medical treatment throughout the whole of their health care pathway.
The other main change is the Ombudsman can develop a model complaints handling process for public service bodies. This aims to drive improvements and help achieve consistency across the public sector.
This Bill represents a significant amount of hard work undertaken over a number of years and a rigorous scrutiny process by Assembly committees.
I hope the Assembly approves the Bill today; we need a Wales that provides excellent public services. Should a service fall short of an individual’s expectations, they will have confidence in the Ombudsman to investigate and make things right.
Jocelyn Davies, former Chair of the Finance Committee of the Fourth Assembly:
“I started work on extending the powers of the Ombudsman back in the Fourth Assembly. I hope the Bill is passed today as I’m looking forward to a future where we have excellent public services but when things do go wrong, the Ombudsman is able to investigate, bring redress for individuals and make improvements to public services that we can all benefit from.”
If you’d like further information about the Finance Committee, or would like to keep up to date with their work, you can visit the Committee’s webpage.
You can also follow the Committee on twitter @SeneddFinance