22 June 2015
The National Audit Office (NAO) has found that the public services market is riddled with poor governance.
According to the NAO’s report ‘Public service markets: Putting things right when they go wrong’, over 10 million people who used public services – approximately 1 in 5 – in the UK last year faced problems when using those services. The problems ranged from fairly straightforward issues, such as types of food in care homes, to serious and life-threatening safeguarding issues.
The NAO adds that system-wide improvements are inhibited by poor central leadership. Responsibility for different parts of the system sit with different parts of central and local government, each with different governance and accountability arrangements. Parliament has recently reported on the need for better complaint systems to improve public services, and many stakeholders the NAO met during its review accepted the need for improvements.
Public service organizations do not make enough use of complaints to improve services and there are serious impediments to doing so. There is no standard approach to recording or reporting on complaints. Despite some examples of good practice, data sharing is irregular and informal.
Among the NAO’s recommendations is that the Cabinet Office, which oversees public service reform working in partnership with other government departments, should nominate an authority within government to manage reforms to the complaints and redress system.
Over many years, government has established independent ombudsman and complaints bodies in various parts of the public sector, each with different legislative provisions, protocols and powers.