At the Ombudsman Association (OA) annual conference in May, the new chair of the executive committee was announced – Kieran Fitzgerald from the Irish Garda Ombudsman.
The position of chair is usually held by someone for two years; after which they stand down from the executive committee. During my two years as chair I’ve been involved in a number of initiatives and changes at the OA. My term started in the middle of a consultation on changing the nature and membership of the OA.
One of the changes I was keen to see was for the OA to have a director rather than a secretary. The difference being that a director shares leadership of an organisation and can be its public face, ensuring continuity when the chair changes every two years. I’m pleased to say that the OA now has its first Director, Donal Galligan.
For a long time I felt that the OA could be somewhat inward-looking and I was keen to see it raise its sights. I believe it’s taken steps in the right direction; particularly as at the end of this year’s annual general meeting I signed a memorandum of understanding with the International Ombudsman Institute.
Most importantly for me, I think it is essential in the changing ADR landscape that there is a set of objective service standards that ombudsman schemes can sign up to and be measured against. In conjunction with the British Standards Institute (BSI), this is now underway.
I’ve been involved with the OA since 2002, when I worked as deputy ombudsman at the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO) and later as the chief executive and chief ombudsman at Ombudsman Services. I will continue to support the OA in whatever way I can. As one of the largest ombudsman schemes in Europe it is important that I ensure Ombudsman Services engages with, and positively influences, the work of the OA and indeed the work of ombudsman schemes internationally.
While no longer the chair of the OA, my work continues as president of the National Energy Ombudsman Network (NEON). Duties include meeting with directors of the European Commission and involvement with European energy regulators through CEER and the consumer group BEUC – and of course working with other energy ombudsman schemes and ADR bodies.
I also have a busy schedule of public affairs work for Ombudsman Services. As well as meeting with senior politicians, government ministers and civil servants in London, Edinburgh and Brussels, I speak regularly at conferences and participate in ‘round table’ events on energy, communications, ADR and justice.
As for my successor at the OA, my advice has been twofold:
When working in Europe always use the full name of the OA (The British and Irish Ombudsman Association) as the Commission and others see the strength of an organisation that covers more than one member state.
Remember that the executive committee is made up of the heads of ombudsman schemes and complaint handling bodies – all people who look at the evidence, make a decision based on ‘fairness’ and the ‘balance of probability’ and then will not back down! You can have 10 people at the meeting and 10 different decisions so make sure the papers include recommendations and a clearly argued case.
Wishing Kieran and the OA executive committee all the best.
Lewis Shand Smith
Chief Ombudsman, Ombudsman Services