Posted: Wed 17th Apr 2024

A view from Sam Rowlands – Welsh Conservative North Wales Member of the Senedd for people living in or visiting the Wrexham area
This article is old - Published: Wednesday, Apr 17th, 2024 has invited the four North Wales Members of the Senedd to write a monthly column with updates on their work. You can find their updates – along with contributions from the Wrexham and Clwyd South MPs and MSs – here.

In this month’s column, Welsh Conservative Member of the Senedd Sam Rowlands writes:

This week in the Welsh Parliament, I’ll be leading a debate on the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales.

Understandably, your eyes may begin to glaze over – but this is actually pretty important.

The Public Services Ombudsman is there to be an impartial and unbiased arbiter of cases involving elected officials and public services across Wales.

If you have a problem with the local Health Board, you can go to the Ombudsman. If a Councillor is accused of inappropriate dealings, then the Ombudsman looks into it and gives a judgement.

It’s an important role. A role that should have the confidence of the people and be utterly dedicated to the truth in a rigorous and fair way.

Unfortunately, recent revelations have shown that this is simply not the case – and that is a big problem for our democratic process.

They showed that the head of investigations at the Ombudsman had been making torrents of politically motivated, hostile, aggressive comments on social media via a number of accounts.

The media coverage has focused on the overtly anti-Conservative comments and the foul language used. However, it is also worth remembering that non-Conservative politicians and parties were also in the firing line, receiving abuse and unfair treatment.

Take for example Independent Councillors. There are many in Wales who don’t align with one particular political party. Many of them feel unfairly treated by the Ombudsman, and given the social media comments, you can see why.

So, it’s not just a Conservative issue. It’s an issue for everyone across the political spectrum and in all parts of Wales.

With the top investigator having been exposed for her pro-Labour bias, is it any surprise that non-Labour Councillors feel like they have been stitched up?

Welsh Conservatives demanded an investigation, and one has been announced. Remarkably, the man chosen to lead it is a Labour stooge.

He was the Labour leader of a Council, a Labour Parliamentary Candidate and the Chairman of the Society of Labour Lawyers.

He is about as Labour as it can get! It doesn’t make any sense for someone with that background to investigate the pro-Labour bias at the Ombudsman.

Obviously the penny must have dropped with someone, because earlier this week that particular barrister has been dropped, with another person soon to be appointed.

I wait with interest to see who they find – I am sure they can get someone who doesn’t have decades-long connections to the Labour Party!

Two things must happen for the Ombudsman to build back credibility, which it has currently squandered during this entire sorry episode.

Both of them are significant and will take time, but both are completely necessary.

Firstly, it must re-open every single investigation during the time this person worked for the Ombudsman to ensure that the correct decisions were reached – and if that’s not the case, that justice is actually served instead of whatever benefits the Welsh Labour Party.

Otherwise, people will have had these inappropriate decisions made against them which will be a black mark against them for the rest of their careers. That is deeply unfair.

Secondly, a properly independent investigation into the Ombudsman and the way the whole organisation operates from top to bottom. We need to know the exact extent of how deep the rot is – if the current revelations are anything to go by, then every single beam and foundation in this house of horrors is rotten to the core.

Anything that merely skims the surface is simply not good enough and won’t actually fix the deep-seated problems that clearly exist in that place.

This Senedd, which after all was involved in the appointment process of the Head Ombudsman, must send a message, loud and clear, that bias of this nature is totally unacceptable.

The Finance Committee, in particular, plays an important role in this process. That Committee must urgently review the operations, processes and investigations carried out by the Ombudsman so the people of Wales can have faith in its independence and impartiality.

I also want to see the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales disclose the terms of the departure of the former Head of Investigations. What was the deal? How were those actions looked into? This is important for the public interest – it’s no good hiding things like this away from the public eye. Accountability is the name of the game.

We know that the Ombudsman has destroyed any credibility it has, but all is not necessarily lost for the future. The relentless focus of everyone involved in the process must be on a structural rebuilding of the organisation, from top to bottom.

Anything less will be a dismal failure for the people of Wales, and will further erode trust in those institutions which should be there to serve you.

As ever, if you have any queries or issues you’d like to raise with me, then you can get in touch by emailing [email protected]

Spotted something? Got a story? Email [email protected]

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