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Government agency complaints soar

A leading public sector watchdog has reported a major increase in the number of complaints against the Northern Ireland government and its agencies.

Northern Ireland Ombudsman Dr Tom Frawley said there had been a 15.4% jump in complaints to his office in the last year, and an increase in cases where he had detected poor administration or a failure to follow rules.

His annual report also included stinging criticism of the Planning Service which he said continued to make the same basic errors he has been highlighting for years.

Dr Frawley said the tougher economic climate underlined the need for efficiency in publicly funded organisations.

"I recognise that in the present economic climate public services are tested, as government and senior management seek even greater economy and efficiency," he said.

"At such times statutory requirements, the needs of individual citizens and the quality of the delivery of public services can, if we are not vigilant, become secondary.

"In such challenging times, my office provides an impartial mechanism for ensuring redress, where appropriate, to the individual citizen."

The ombudsman said his office received 681 written complaints. It was an increase in workload which was related partly to a 120% rise in complaints against the health service, though this was attributed to a change in how health-linked complaints were handled.

But his report also noted a jump in the number of maladministration cases in the Assembly and against the health service. Poor administration rulings were made in 21 cases at the Assembly, compared with 10 in the previous year. There were 23 rulings in the health sector, compared with 10 the previous year.

In his annual report he said he was concerned at basic flaws that continued to surface in the Planning Service.

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