The Legal Ombudsman (LeO) is set for a major leadership shake-up in the wake of its recent budget debacle and following the decision of the chief ombudsman to leave.
Rebecca Marsh – whose role also combines that of chief executive – announced on Friday that she will take up the position of Property Ombudsman in October.
The service has been dogged by performance problems for several years now, and in March LeO hit a fresh crisis after it was forced to backtrack on its request for a 20% budget rise, with the Legal Services Board (LSB) describing its performance as unacceptable.
Elisabeth Davies was appointed recently as the new chair of the Office for Legal Complaints – the body that oversees LeO – and has evidently been tasked with overhauling the organisation.
In a letter to the LSB last month, Ms Davies said her board was “clear that a restructure of the senior leadership team is now absolutely critical”.
A review of the events around the budget “identifies that the lack of senior operational capability and capacity within the LeO management team was a significant factor”. It also raised questions about LeO having neither a chief operating officer nor a director of operations.
Ms Davies added: “It is recognised that whilst the combining of the chief ombudsman and chief executive role had value from the perspective of aligning leadership, it has nonetheless left a capacity gap at the operational level and the budget process exposed this.
“The budget process and its failings is therefore symptomatic of the wider issue of capability.”
She continued that two recently completed audit reports “both highlight basic control failures”.
The budget exercise also laid bare the staff problems LeO has, with very high levels of turnover and a staff survey finding that more than 50% of employees wanted to leave in the next year, while half of new recruits exited in their first two years.
Ms Davies said a key priority was to ensure that projections of LeO’s workload were more accurate “and to get a grip on performance and operational delivery”.
At the time she wrote the letter, Ms Davies said Ms Marsh would lead on this work, adding: “Whilst in the first instance this is a process of building the [OLC] board’s confidence and providing assurance, it is also potentially going to expose shortfalls that cannot be addressed by the current team.”
Speaking about her departure, Ms Marsh said: “We have made real progress over my time at LeO and the role at the Property Ombudsman comes at a key point on that journey.
“I considered whether to continue into the final phase of LeO’s improvement and commit for a further three years, but the opportunity to become the Property Ombudsman offered some big strategic challenges that I really wanted to be part of.”
Ms Davies said “I’m grateful for the tenacity and resilience Rebecca has shown in steering the ombudsman through a difficult and challenging time and in particular for her dedication to the staff.
“Given both Rebecca’s departure plans and the remaining operational performance issues facing the scheme, especially in light of the pandemic, now is the time to strengthen, enhance and reshape the leadership capability and capacity sitting beneath the chief ombudsman.
“My first eight weeks have shown me that whilst LeO must continue to improve its processes and systems, unless it has good and valued people it will not be able to deliver the quality of service that is necessary and the senior team must be equipped to deliver that.”