Applicant Information Pack
Job Opportunity - Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman
The Northern Ireland Assembly Commission (the Assembly Commission) is responsible for identifying a candidate for the appointment of an Ombudsman, with appointment by Her Majesty on the nomination by the Northern Ireland Assembly (‘the Assembly’). The office of the Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman (‘the Ombudsman’) became vacant on 16 July 2019 and an Acting Ombudsman is currently in place.
The Public Services Ombudsman Act (NI) 2016 (the 2016 Act) provides for the appointment of an Ombudsman for a term of seven years by Her Majesty the Queen on nomination of the Assembly.
The role of the Ombudsman is to investigate complaints of possible maladministration in the delivery of public services by public bodies within its remit and a power of own initiative where the Ombudsman has a reasonable suspicion of maladministration, or in the case of health and social care, a reasonable suspicion of systemic injustice. A list of the public bodies is attached at Annex A of this booklet.
The Ombudsman also discharges the role of the Northern Ireland Judicial Appointments Ombudsman and Local Government Commissioner for Standards (‘the Commissioner’). The Northern Ireland Judicial Appointments Ombudsman’s function is to investigate complaints of maladministration in the context of judicial appointments. The Local Government Commissioner for Standards’ (‘the Commissioner’s’) function is to investigate and adjudicate on complaints against councillors who may have failed to comply with the Northern Ireland Local Government Code of Conduct for Councillors (‘the Code’).
As Accounting Officer, the Ombudsman will have personal responsibility for ensuring that resources are managed with due regard to regularity, propriety and value for money, and ensure that sound governance arrangements are in place.
This booklet contains important information on the role and eligibility criteria for the appointment as well as details of how to apply for the position. Prospective applicants should read this booklet carefully before completing an application form.
Application forms are available on the Assembly website and should be completed online. Completed application forms demonstrating the skills and experience sought must be submitted by the closing date of noon on 1 June 2020.
It is anticipated that those applicants selected for interview will be notified of their invite on 5 June 2020 and will be invited to appear before a selection panel on 11 June or 12 June 2020 and that the successful applicant will take up appointment as soon as possible. Further details of the selection process are provided at the end of this booklet.
The Assembly Commission is committed to providing equality of opportunity and welcomes applications from all eligible applicants, irrespective of religious belief, political opinion, race, age, gender, disability, marital status, sexual orientation or people with dependants or without.
The Role and Responsibilities of the Ombudsman
The Ombudsman is a corporation sole and administers the organisation without a Board. The Ombudsman has however appointed an Audit and Risk Committee, consisting of three non-executives, to support the Ombudsman, as Accounting Officer in monitoring the corporate governance and control systems in the organisation.
The Ombudsman will provide the strategic and operational leadership required to drive an organisation that is fluid enough to react to the changing external, political and fiscal environment, but is also capable of delivering complaints investigation services that are progressive, effective and efficient.
The Ombudsman will be expected to provide strong leadership and management by setting a clear vision and direction for the organisation; by engaging its people and developing their capability; and by driving a culture of high performance to enable excellent delivery of business objectives, thereby increasing public and stakeholder confidence in the Office.
As Accounting Officer, the Ombudsman has personal responsibilities for the resources authorised by the Northern Ireland Assembly to ensure that these are managed with due regard to regularity, propriety and value for money, and to ensure that sound governance arrangements are in place. The responsibilities of Accounting Officers are set out in Managing Public Money Northern Ireland (MPMNI).
The Ombudsman has a budget of approximately £3.3m per annum and approximately 38 full time equivalent members of staff.
The Ombudsman is a high profile role given the need to communicate and engage with a wide range of external stakeholders such as members of the public, public bodies, elected representatives, community organisations and the media. The Ombudsman will also be required to establish effective networks, external to the organisation, including fellow Ombudsmen.
Section 1(3) of the 2016 Act states “The principal purpose of the Ombudsman is to investigate maladministration in listed authorities.” The purposes of an investigation are to determine if the matter properly warrants investigation and if allegations are in substance true and, where it appears to the Ombudsman to be desirable, to bring about a settlement.
The Ombudsman has the power to investigate complaints of alleged maladministration against listed authorities made by a member of the public who claims to have sustained an injustice; complaints referred by a listed authority; and a power of own initiative investigation where the Ombudsman has a reasonable suspicion that there is systemic maladministration or injustice. The Ombudsman can also investigate complaints from students of maladministration by Queen’s University and the University of Ulster. The Ombudsman has the same power as the High Court in relation to the production of records and the attendance of witnesses.
In addition to investigating alleged maladministration, the Ombudsman can also investigate complaints of injustice arising from the exercise of clinical and professional judgement against health and social care providers. The Ombudsman may take any action he or she considers appropriate to resolve a complaint instead of, or in addition to, an investigation.
Certain matters are excluded from investigation (clauses 20-23 and Schedule 5 of the 2016 Act) such as the merits of a decision taken without maladministration by a listed authority in the exercise of discretion.
The Ombudsman must not investigate action in respect of which the person aggrieved has a right of appeal or review to a tribunal or legal remedy through the courts. However, the Ombudsman has some discretion to investigate where satisfied that in the particular circumstances it is not reasonable to expect the person aggrieved to resort to a tribunal or court.
The 2016 Act provides the Ombudsman with authority to investigate systemic maladministration on the Ombudsman’s own initiative. This power came into effect in 2018 so it will be important to plan for and adequately resource this area of work.
Part 3 of the 2016 Act provides for the Assembly Commission by order to commence the role of a Complaints Standards Authority for Northern Ireland. The role (when commenced) will require the Ombudsman to develop and consult upon Principles for Good Complaints Handling and to have these approved by the Assembly.
The Ombudsman, by virtue of clause 58 of the 2016 Act, automatically occupies the separate statutory office of Northern Ireland Judicial Appointments Ombudsman established under the Justice (Northern Ireland) Act 2002 as amended by Schedule 6 of the 2016 Act. The Northern Ireland Judicial Appointments Ombudsman’s function is to investigate complaints of maladministration in the context of judicial appointments and to ask the Lord Chief Justice to commence, or at the request of the Lord Chief Justice to participate, in a judicial removals panel.
There are restrictions on who may exercise some of the Northern Ireland Judicial Appointments Ombudsman functions (such as practising solicitors and barristers) but these do not affect the appointment of the Ombudsman. An Ombudsman to whom these restrictions apply would delegate the relevant functions to a deputy or other suitable person.
As Commissioner, the Ombudsman will be responsible for investigating and adjudicating on complaints against councillors who may have failed to comply with the Northern Ireland Local Government Code of Conduct for Councillors (‘the Code’).
Adjudication hearings are held in public and the Commissioner’s decisions on a breach of the Code are binding, subject to an appeal to the High Court. Where a breach of the Code has occurred, the Commissioner can impose sanctions. You can view the adjudication procedures on the NIPSO website. The Commissioner can also make recommendations to the Department for Communities and Councils for changes in practice.
The Ombudsman is required to lay in the Assembly an annual general report on the exercise of his or her functions, as well as other reports as provided for in the Act.
The Ombudsman is required to submit a budget estimate to the Committee established by section 66 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 (currently the Audit Committee). The Committee must have regard to the advice of the Department of Finance in considering the Ombudsman’s estimate. Subject to any modifications agreed by the Ombudsman and the Committee, the Committee must lay the estimate in the Assembly.
The Ombudsman is also required to publish the certified accounts of the Office and the statement of the Comptroller and Auditor General on those accounts.
Section 2 of the 2016 Act sets out the Ombudsman’s independence from direction and control of a range of persons and bodies. However, the Ombudsman operates within a statutory framework and Clause 2 goes on to highlight a number of key provisions.
This is a challenging full-time position with a significant public profile. The successful applicant must have the ability to lead the work of the office to deliver an investigation service in which the public and listed authorities can have confidence.
The person appointed will require a combination of appropriate skill-sets and experience and a successful track record of strong leadership and managerial skills, relevant professional knowledge and experience, sound judgement and decision making and excellent oral and written communications in dealing with a wide range of stakeholders including the media.
This section sets out the essential knowledge, experience and personal skills and behaviours which are necessary to undertake the work of the Ombudsman. Applicants for the post must, by the closing date for applications, have:
1. A clear understanding of the roles of the Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman, the Northern Ireland Judicial Appointments Ombudsman and the Local Government Commissioner for Standards within the administrative justice system and how they interact with each other.
At least five years’ experience of each of the following criteria:
2. Strong strategic leadership and managerial skills while operating at a senior level*.
3. Using analytical skills and judgement to reach sound and impartial decisions.
4. Highly developed oral and written communication skills when dealing with a wide range of stakeholders, for example members of the public, public bodies, elected representatives, community organisations, staff and the media and an understanding of the stakeholder environment.
* Senior level is defined as membership ofa team at the highest level of management who have the day-to-day responsibilities of managing an organisation. The word ‘Strategic’ is defined as those decisions or actions which effect the whole organisation and/or which are medium to long lasting i.e. 3-5 years.
The selection panel reserves the right to use shortlisting as part of the recruitment process for this post. Should shortlisting be required, the following shortlisting criteria will be applied:
a) Experience of significantly improving organisational performance while managing within constrained resources, in both a short-term and long-term context.
Making an Application
Application forms are available on the Northern Ireland Assembly website and should be completed online. Completed application forms must be submitted by the closing date of 1 June 2020 at noon. Late applications will not be accepted.
Further information is available in the Guidance on Recruitment and Selection for Applicants.
Assistance for Applicants with Disabilities
The Guaranteed Interview Scheme (GIS) has been developed for applicants with disabilities or those with a long-term impairment or health condition, that is expected to last for at least 12 months and which means that they cannot meet all of the shortlisting criteria. Details are available in the Guidance on Recruitment and Selection for Applicants document.
We will also consider reasonable adjustments during all stages of the recruitment process as well as any reasonable adjustments required in order for a successful applicant with a disability to undertake the role. If you feel that you require any adjustments to the application stage, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
There are five elements within the Recruitment and Selection Framework which may be assessed during the selection process:
Experience – the knowledge or mastery of an activity or subject gained through involvement in or exposure to it.
Ability – the aptitude or potential to perform to the required standard.
Technical – the demonstration of specific professional skills, knowledge or qualifications.
Assembly Skills and Behaviours – the actions and activities that people do which result in effective performance in a job.
Strengths – the things we do regularly, do well and that motivate us.
The elements which will be assessed for this role will be Experience, Technical, Assembly Skills and Behaviours and Strengths and will be assessed through the application form, an assessment exercise and interview. Further information is available in the Recruitment and Selection Framework.
After the closing date for receipt of applications, the selection panel will consider applications against the essential criteria and only applicants who demonstrate that they meet the essential criteria will proceed to the next stage of the selection process. If it is deemed necessary to shortlist, the shortlisting criteria will be used to decide who appear, based on the information available, to be most suitable in terms of relevant experience and skills to undertake the role and those applicants will be invited to an assessment centre and interview stage.
Final selection of applicants will be based on performance at an assessment centre and interview(s) structured around the essential criteria section of the Person Specification listed above and using the Recruitment and Selection Framework. All applicants will be expected to meet an acceptable level of competence, both in the assessment centre and in each of the essential criterion during the interview.
At interview, applicants should also be prepared to discuss any real, perceived or potential conflicts of interest which might impair their ability to perform the duties of the Ombudsman with integrity and objectivity.
The selection panel reserves the right to hold a further interview stage if deemed necessary.
It is planned that the assessment exercise and interviews will be held on 11 and 12 June 2020, following which the selection panel will prepare a recommendation, based on assessment of the applicants and in order of merit, of those deemed most suitable for appointment.
Terms of appointment
The Ombudsman will be appointed by Her Majesty on the nomination of the Assembly. The Ombudsman will be appointed for a term of seven years from the date of appointment. A person may only be appointed to serve as Ombudsman for one term.
Remuneration is £97,337 per annum. This is currently under review.
The Office is located in Belfast city centre, however the Ombudsman may be required to travel within Northern Ireland and occasionally within the UK and abroad.
Hours of Work
This is a full time appointment based on a 37 hour week. It may require occasional work outside normal office hours in evenings and weekends.
Eligibility to be appointed or serve as the Ombudsman
Schedule 1 to the 2016 Act paragraphs 2-5 deal with eligibility for appointment as the Ombudsman and disqualification. Further detail is set out in Annex B. Annex C also sets out some information on Probity and Conflict of Interest.
Removal from Office
Her Majesty may, on the passing of a resolution of the Assembly, remove the Ombudsman from office.
The resolution may only be passed on the ground of the Ombudsman’s—
(a) ill health, or
The resolution is not passed unless it has the support of a number of members of the Assembly which equals or exceeds two-thirds of the total number of seats in the Assembly.
Her Majesty may remove the Ombudsman from office at the office holder’s own request.
The Ombudsman is a Crown servant for the purposes of the Official Secrets Act 1989.
A contributory pension scheme applies to this appointment.
The Ombudsman may—
(a) appoint staff,
(b) determine the terms and conditions of their employment, and
(c) make arrangements in respect of salary and pensions for them.
In exercising powers under sub-paragraph (1) of the 2016 Act, the Ombudsman must have regard to the desirability of keeping the terms and conditions of employment, salary and pensions broadly in line with those applying to persons employed in the Northern Ireland Civil Service (NICS).
The Ombudsman may obtain advice from any person who, in the opinion of the Ombudsman, is qualified to give it, to assist in the discharge of the Ombudsman’s functions.
The Ombudsman may pay to any person from whom advice is obtained under sub-paragraph (1) of the 2016 Act such fees or allowances as the Ombudsman may determine.
In exercising powers under this paragraph, the Ombudsman must have regard to the desirability of keeping the fees and allowances broadly in line with those paid by the Northern Ireland Civil Service.
Pre-appointments will be carried out as detailed in the Guidance on Recruitment and Selection for Applicants.
Conflicts of Interest
It is essential that the person appointed is able to maintain public confidence at all times.
Applicants are required to declare whether they are aware of anything in their private or professional life that would undermine their ability to maintain public trust and confidence in the office of the Ombudsman or bring the office into disrepute. At interview, applicants will be probed on any real, perceived or potential conflicts of interest which might impair their ability to perform the duties of the Ombudsman with integrity and objectivity.
Further guidance on probity and conflicts of interest is contained in Annex C of this booklet.
Commissioner for Public Appointments – Code of Practice
Although the appointment of the Ombudsman does not fall within the remit of the Commissioner for Public Appointments, in the interests of good practice the appointment competition is being managed in accordance with the principles set out in the Code of Practice of the Commissioner for Public Appointments. Further information is available in Annex D.
Communication during the Recruitment Process
The Human Resources Recruitment Team will issue most communication electronically. Applicants are advised to regularly check their email account to make sure that they do not miss any important communication. Please note, sometimes the Recruitment Team emails are automatically filtered as spam by email providers.