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Holyrood, msps & their queasy feelings about regulation reform : Eight petitions against Scottish Public Services Ombudsman closed in under three minutes

16 Feb

LGC Committee HolyroodScottish Parliament’s Local Government Committee closed eight petitions asking for an independent review of the SPSO. As readers will now be well aware, EIGHT PUBLIC PETITIONS calling for an independent review of the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO) which received the backing of the Scottish Government’s Housing Minister Alex Neil in his capacity as a constituency MSP to the petitioners were closed in under three minutes by the Scottish Parliament’s Local Government & Communities Committee on Wednesday of last week.

The closure of all eight petitions, calling for a review of the independent regulator which investigates complaints against public services in Scotland, maintains the Scottish Parliament’s noticeably almost perfect record of refusing to consider any public petition which calls for an independent investigation into, or reform of any regulator, self-regulator, or ‘Ombudsman’ position in Scotland.

For those who were following the progress of the eight petitions calling for a review of the SPSO, along with one additional petition with similar aims which was closed by the Petitions Committee at an earlier hearing, I reported on these matters in earlier coverage which includes video testimony from Alex Neil MSP, here : Holyrood considers nine petitions against Scottish Public Services Ombudsman as Housing Minister dubbed ‘out of touch’ over accusations

The Petitions Committee then sent all eight of the remaining petitions to the Local Government & Communities Committee, reported here : Petitions calling for review of Scottish Public Services Ombudsman over complaints remit sent to Holyrood’s Local Government Committee

The Scottish Parliament’s Local Government & Communities Committee did indeed consider the petitions, for around three minutes, although as observers to the committee’s deliberations noted, it took the Convener longer to read out the details of the petitions themselves than it actually took members to debate their content in front of the cameras. The Committee subsequently closed all eight petitions involving the SPSO.

Holyrood’s Local Government & Communities Committee ‘discuss’ public petitions calling for a review of the SPSO (click image below to view video)

Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (Review) (PE1342, PE1343, PE1344, PE1345, PE1346, PE1347, PE1348 and PE1349)

The Convener: Item 5 is consideration of eight petitions that call on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to commission an independent review of the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman to make it more accountable for its performance, including the extent to which its investigations are fair and robust, and to widen its remit so that it can enforce its recommendations following investigations into actions of public bodies. The petitions are PE1342, by Phyllis and Robert French; PE1343, by Sandra Smith; PE1344, by Philip Hawthorne; PE1345, by James Smith; PE1346, by William Whiteside; PE1347, by Christina Cumming; PE1348, by Mr and Mrs Corbett; and PE1349, by Iris Innes. I invite members to discuss the petitions and to consider options 1, 2 and 3, as outlined in paper LGC/S3/11/5/5.

Alex Johnstone: Before the discussion begins, given some of the correspondence that we have had on the subject, I draw to my colleagues’ attention the fact that I am an elected member of the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body.

The Convener: Do you want to add anything further on the proposals in the paper?

Alex Johnstone: No.

John Wilson: I point out to members that, as a member of the Public Petitions Committee, I sat in consideration of these petitions.

The Convener: Okay. Do you have any comments to add to that?

John Wilson: No.

Alasdair Morgan: In view of what we have heard from the SPCB in Paul Grice’s letter and, more particularly, from the ombudsman the last time he appeared before us, we should take no further action on the petitions and close them.

The Convener: Do members agree to Alasdair Morgan’s suggestion, which is option 1, which is that we should close the petitions under rule 15.7 of the standing orders and take no further action?
Members indicated agreement.

The next day, February 10, the Scottish Parliament voted on the reappointment of Jim Martin as Scottish Public Services Ombudsman for a further six year term, with msps voting 98 in favour, 8 voting against, and 9 abstaining.

The reappointment of Mr Martin was announced HERE

Mike Pringle, MSP, who proposed the motion on behalf of the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body (SPCB), said : “It is the unanimous view of the SPCB that Jim Martin is the right person for the role of Scottish Public Services Ombudsman. We consider that he has brought about visible and sustained improvements to the case load management of the office. His regular commentaries demonstrate recommendations for public authorities to make improvements to their processes where that is appropriate. He has also introduced a quality assurance process that we believe will continue to drive up the standards that he wants.”

Mr Pringle continued : “Of course, the SPCB is aware that some members have not always agreed with the ombudsman‘s decisions, and we received some unsolicited representations about the reappointment of Jim Martin. The Parliament has given the ombudsman the independence to make decisions, and in doing so he is not under our direction or control at all. As with ombudsmen around the world, not all parties will be satisfied all the time. That is simply not possible, given the nature of the job. However, we believe that Mr Martin is the right person and that during his next six-year term in office he will continue to build on the considerable improvements that he has already made in his office.”

Integrity4scotland is a campaign which has been set up to “campaign for the highest ethical standards, transparency & public accountability within Scottish public service bodies. Readers who may have encountered difficulties with the Scottish Public;ic Services Ombudsman or have issues with the accountability of Scottish public service bodies may wish to visit their website HERE

As I was busy with other reports last week and some upcoming investigations, this article is published today to complete my reporting on the progress of the petitions against the SPSO in the duty of keeping readers aware of how the Scottish Parliament handles petitions involving ‘touchy subjects’ such as regulation of, well … anything.

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