Legal watchdog in dock over flawed outsourcing plans

The Office of the Legal Services Ombudsman has been attacked by the leading civil service union for its “flawed” recruitment practices and management techniques.

The Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union has voiced concern that the office’s performance is being undermined by the outsourcing of key work and the failure to recruit more staff.

Responsible for overseeing the handling of complaints in the legal profession, the current ombudsman, Zahida Manzoor, has been in the post since March 2003.

The PCS claimed there has been a 40% turnover in case workers since Manzoor took up her position and that morale of employees had hit rock bottom.

It is understood that the Department for Constitutional Affairs (DCA), which oversees the legal ombudsman’s office, has expressed concern.

A spokeswoman at the department refused to discuss the allegations, but said: “It is for the ombudsman and her management team to oversee the throughput of work in the office and to secure appropriate resources.”

She added that the DCA was working to support all staff at the Office of the Legal Services Ombudsman “as appropriate”.

David Vincent, PCS branch secretary, said: “We [the union] are gravely concerned about the negative impact that flawed recruitment practices and dubious outsourcing is having on the performance [of the office].”

Vincent said crucial posts had gone unfilled for months and the legal ombudsman failed to consult with the union before outsourcing casework to private company, Safecall.

The PCS said the ombudsman completed about a third fewer investigations between April and December 2004 than during the same period in 2003, a claim rejected by the legal watchdog.

In a statement, it said it was on track to meet its performance target of 90% of all reports issued within six months for 2004/05.
The PCS is urging the DCA to intervene and talk to the union.

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