Don’t ‘throw out the rule book’ amid budget pressures

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has challenged local authorities not to ‘throw out the rule book’ when redesigning services in the face of budget and resource pressures.

The new Under Pressure report, based on nearly 40 case studies in which the Ombudsman has identified systemic problems stemming from councils changing the way they provided services, highlights the reality of the sizeable changes councils have made in the last decade, often in response to unprecedented financial pressures, and how it is now playing out in the complaints it investigates.

The research reveals four common themes for councils to look out for, where ineffective planning for change can lead to service failure for local people. These are: accommodating longer backlog, reviewing eligibility criteria, using new partnerships and delivery arrangements and restructuring and redesigning services.

The Ombudsman’s report also emphasises how sharing the learning from these cases of complaints can help councils avoid unforeseen negative consequences when undergoing change programmes. This is accompanied by a revised Principles of Good Administrative Practice document, which provides a shared understanding of what good administration looks like.

Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said: “The way councils have adapted and innovated in the face of huge challenges is to be admired. But the lesson from this report is for councils to get the basics right and not throw out the rule book when working under pressure. The core principles of good administration are more important than ever when undergoing major transformation.

“We don’t claim to have all the answers in this report. We are one piece in a complicated jigsaw – but we hope that our unique perspective, based on some people’s real-life experiences, can help to share learning and stimulate wider public policy debate about the issues. Some of the pitfalls to avoid when redesigning services include ensuring changed services continue to meet statutory levels and timescales, or making sure discretionary powers are not replaced by a one-size fits all approach. The report also highlights many examples where, by taking a proactive approach to our investigations, councils have used the learning to make significant improvements to their services for other people in their area.”

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