The English Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman: Systemic Administrative Justice and Bureaucratisation Part 1

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Abstract

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO) is the principal administrative justice redress mechanism as regards English local government. This article presents an inductive study of the LGSCO’s investigations into systemic failures by councils and their reactions to the ombuds’ reports. Drawing upon a sample of the LGSCO’s public reports and councils’ responses to them, the article assesses the ombuds’ role and its effectiveness in improving public service delivery. Issues examined include: the ombuds’ principles of good administration; how they are applied in practice; the ombuds’ ability to undertake proactive investigations; how council committees consider public reports; their responses to service improvement recommendations; and how the ombuds manages non-compliance. It is found that the LGSCO has consciously enhanced its role of improving administration. Councils overwhelmingly comply with its service improvement recommendations. These complex practices and interactions are understood through two interrelated concepts: systemic administrative justice and bureaucratisation. The first concept is exemplified by the LGSCO’s strengthened focus on identifying underlying structural faults. The second concept is illustrated through the ombuds’ service improvement recommendations, which are designed to ensure councils are better managed and able to perform their functions more effectively. In this way, the LGSCO now exerts a wider influence over local authorities. It has some real advantages over other administrative justice institutions, such as judicial review and tribunals. Nonetheless, the LGSCO’s impact upon is constrained by financial and other factors. The outlook for the ombuds is mixed. Part 1 examines the LGSCO’s principles of good administrative practice, how it applies those principles, and how it has used its power to investigate suspected injustice and systemic fault for people who do not complain. Part 2 considers compliance by councils and their response to service improvement recommendations and draws conclusions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)240-264
Number of pages24
JournalPublic Law
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 12 Mar 2023

Keywords

  • Ombudsmen
  • Local government
  • administrative justice
  • public services
  • governmental administration

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