Our first role is to investigate complaints about public services. In addition to an increase in general enquiries, during 2022/23, we received 2% more complaints about public. Whilst the number of complaints about local councils fell by 11%, there were 21% more complaints about Welsh Health Boards and 15% more complaints about Housing Associations.
Yet again, we closed a record number of complaints about public services. We found that something has gone wrong and intervened in 19% of those cases – a slightly higher proportion than last year (18%). In 3 out of 4 of these interventions, we proposed and agreed actions to resolve the complaint at an early stage. However, 136 or about 1 in 4 of interventions followed a full investigation.
Overall, we issued 1,259 recommendations to public service providers. Organisations complied with 90% of our recommendations due during the year. However, we had to issue a Special Report about Bannau Brycheiniog National Park Authority, because the Authority failed to comply with recommendations first agreed and issued in 2019.
Our second role is to investigate complaints about local councillors breaching their authority’s Code of Conduct. During 2022/23, we received fewer such complaints.
We investigate Code of Conduct complaints where there is a public interest to do so – these are cases where there are serious concerns or where investigation would be of significant benefit to the public. We investigated a slightly lower proportion of complaints than last year (13% compared with 14%). This suggests that standards of conduct in local government are generally good.
We do not make final findings about breaches of the Code of Conduct. Instead, where investigations find the most serious concerns, these are referred to the Standards Committee of the relevant local authority, or the Adjudication Panel for Wales. In 2022/23, we made 12 such referrals – a welcome reduction from 20 last year.
Our third role is to drive public services improvement. Despite the pressures on the office due to the significant increase in caseload, this improvement work continued during the year.
We can specify and monitor how public bodies handle complaints. By the end of 2022/23, a total of 51 bodies were brought under those complaint standards (compared to 39 last year). We also provided during the year 183 online training sessions to those bodies on good complaint handling.
We can also investigate on own initiative (without having received a complaint). In 2022/23, we consulted on the proposed next own initiative investigation, into access to, and the handling of, needs assessments for unpaid carers.
In addition, this year we issued 5 public interest reports on complaints where there were serious failings in healthcare.
It has been a year of many successes and positive change, but also some challenges.
We are glad that, with record complaints closures, we were able to help many more people this year. We welcome the drop in the number of new complaints about the Code of Conduct, and in the number of potentially serious breaches of the Code that we had to refer on. Our improvement work is progressing apace, with more and more bodies brought under our complaints standards. Not least, during the year we developed our new Strategic Plan, setting out our ambitions for our office, public services and local democracy in Wales.
Despite these and other positives, it has also been a very challenging year. We are seeing more and more complaints about public services. Health continues to be the subject of over 80% of our investigations overall and these investigations are often lengthy and complex. This workload meant that some people have had to wait longer for an outcome. Our growing workload has also affected the well-being of our staff.
We trust that our new Strategic Plan will help us work more efficiently and have more impact, while also allowing us to remain a supportive and healthy workplace. Nevertheless, our increasing caseload pressures are a growing concern and we will be realistic about the resources and capacity available to us to deliver change as we embark on this new chapter in our service to the people of Wales.