The OLC recently held its July Board meeting, which was full and substantive, as you would expect it to be. The papers for the meeting can be found here. The Board’s focus was on continuing our commitment to making honest and realistic assessments of the risks which are currently impacting on the performance of the Legal Ombudsman and using this to inform an achievable way forward. Recurring themes of the meeting were recovery, delivery and pace, in order for the Legal Ombudsman to achieve the sustainable levels of performance which we are all seeking.
Throughout the meeting our emphasis was on both performance and people, recognising that you can’t improve the one without the other. The Legal Ombudsman has a comprehensive People Plan with three key pillars: Enhance employee proposition; develop leadership capability; and ensure excellent performance. Delivery of the People Plan is fundamental to improving performance delivery and failure to do so would pose a very real risk to LeO’s recovery.
The Board received a comprehensive diagnosis of performance before reviewing the current options for addressing the backlog created by COVID-19, alongside assessing those immediate mitigations which have been put in place.
The impact of Covid-19 clearly continues to affect the organisation. The Board was pleased to see that performance in June showed signs of slight improvement on the previous month, with the number of cases being taken out of the pre-assessment pool (PAP) increasing. This is due in part to the April cohort of new starters who, despite being entirely inducted online during lockdown, are taking and closing cases in advance of what was anticipated.
The number of suspended cases (due to either consumers or service providers being unable to engage with the complaints process) began to decrease in June and is expected to continue to fall as more providers re-open for business. However, current levels of performance are insufficient to keep pace with incoming demand, and they’re neither sustainable nor acceptable from either a complainant or a provider perspective. They will lead to a deterioration in the customer experience so they need to be addressed.
The OLC Board and Legal Ombudsman Executive are clear that this has to happen in a staged way. The first stage of improvements focuses on stabilisation of performance and immediate mitigations have already been put in place. The focus for Q2 is on supporting staff to improve performance, by providing line managers with the tools to support and manage their staff more effectively. This will also allow for a much clearer view of operational performance as a whole and will allow the Board and Executive to make informed decisions about the next stage of improvement.
At the end of Q2 a number of next stage proposals will be considered which will allow us to achieve further improvements in performance. These include changing the model for handling low complexity cases to take an adjudication approach, and amending the quality and feedback model to require fewer checks for more experienced staff. What’s absolutely clear is that there are potential advantages and disadvantages to each of these proposals and the fact that they are included in the performance board paper does not mean they will happen but they do need to be considered, along with other options too.
This staged approach will not be at the expense of delivery which must start now and continue at stage two.
Whilst absolutely focusing on performance and people the Board didn’t lose sight of what else matters. It was important to revisit responses to the Legal Ombudsman’s discussion paper on Transparency, review the work completed so far and agree proposed solutions for follow up. Whilst recognising capacity constraints, the Board reaffirmed its positive intention and support for increased openness and transparency within the sector.
The Board revisited the Budget Learning Review which was conducted earlier this year and welcomed the new approach to project management of the budget submission process and the time that will be set aside for better engagement with the sector. Whilst it would be neither fair nor realistic to consider an in year budget submission the Board is giving further thought to a limited and specific in year budget variance and will liaise closely with LSB colleagues over this.
Finally, I think it’s fair to say that the stand out moment for the Board was hearing from the Legal Ombudsman BAME Network. In revisiting our Equality, Diversity and Inclusivity (EDI) action plan, and crucially in the context of the Black Lives Matter movement, we needed to start by collectively listening and learning from our own BAME network.
It is not easy to join and contribute to any Board meeting – least of all when it’s being held remotely – but Network colleagues were honest, direct, brave and unflinching in their input. They are right to now expect tangible and specific actions from the Board as we revisit EDI for both staff and our service users.
Elisabeth DaviesChair of the Office for Legal Complaints (OLC).