Annual Report 2014/2015 - full report

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People are attracted to work in the public sector because – in some respects – they see it as a vocation rather than a job. They want to make a difference for the better in people’s lives. So too with us – our latest staff survey confirms that, with 90% of our staff saying “my work has meaning”, 84% saying “I am proud of the work we do” and 86% saying “I am strongly committed to the Office of the Ombudsman”.

By 2006 it was becoming clear that we could not sustain the business model we were then operating and the late John Belgrave, then Chief Ombudsman, challenged us to reflect on the theme “Where is the Office Going?” We needed to examine every aspect of what we did, assess what was still relevant to our primary role of holding the state sector to account for excellence in service delivery, and help the agencies that come within our jurisdiction to improve their service to the people of New Zealand. We also needed to get closer to those agencies to understand their challenges, make our recommendations relevant and proportionate, and ensure that the transaction costs of doing business with us were not oppressive.

So we began what has seemed like a long journey to modernise the Office.

We looked at benchmark offices in Australia and beyond and adopted, adapted, and often enhanced the best practices we found. We want to thank all those generous Ombudsmen and their staff for the insights they gave us and their practical help along the way.

Change has been a constant factor as we tried to reposition ourselves to meet the challenges of a growing workload and there has been considerable development of the Office and an exponential growth in the number of complaints and requests we handle, and in their variety and complexity.

We have been through a fairly turbulent period over the last 4 years as we reorganised and renewed the Office, redefined our purpose, and modernised our investigative practices.

The growth of the Office is clearly illustrated by the following. In the year 2000 we:

  • had 2 jurisdictions (the Ombudsmen Act and the official information legislation);
  • had 38 staff;
  • received no more than 6,000 complaints and other contacts a year; and
  • had an average of 800 complaints open at any one time.

Since 2000 our role has progressively expanded and by 2013/14 when Professor Paterson joined the Office, 68 staff received 13,684 complaints and other contacts – the highest number the Office has ever recorded.

We now have between 1,800 to 2,000 complaints open at any one time and are required to deliver work within multiple jurisdictions:

  • the Ombudsmen Act;
  • the official information legislation;
  • the Protected Disclosures Act;
  • the Crimes of Torture Act;
  • the Land Transport Act; and
  • the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

We have been provided with more resources to manage the growing workload and in the 2015/16 reporting year we will increase our staff numbers to 81. We are grateful to the Speaker and the Officers of Parliament Committee for their support and to Parliament for acknowledging the worth of the work we do.

There are still more challenges in front of us. In particular, the Ombudsmen Act, whilst still serviceable, needs updating and we have proposed a redraft for consideration.

In addition, the day to day operation of the official information legislation has given us cause for concern. It is for this reason we have a systemic review of official information leadership, policies, practices and systems underway. We hope it will lead to better adherence to the legislation’s core principle of making official information available within mandated timeframes unless there is good reason not to. We are also continuing to encourage agencies to be more proactive in releasing information they hold so that it is useful, relevant and timely for the public, and reduces the transaction costs associated with responding to individual requests for access to such information.

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