The Legal Ombudsman (LeO) is in crisis but “refusing to acknowledge serious and fundamental concerns” facing the organisation, the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union has warned.
It is seeking formal recognition to introduce collective bargaining – which the union said would “assist with resolving these issues” – and will try and force the move if LeO does not agree to recognise the PCS.
Despite the positive picture painted by chief ombudsman Paul McFadden, the union said it was “obvious” that LeO was in an “escalating crisis” and “complete disarray” as the attrition level continued to rise.
In a statement, the PCS said: “Over the last 12 months, LeO has lost almost 22% of the permanent staffing resource yet the chief ombudsman continues with the mantra that the senior management team’s assessment is that ‘things are going well’.
“It is evident that there is a complete failure to grasp the serious and significant concerns.” It said these included recruitment and retention issues, high staff turnover, staffing shortages, a two-tier workforce, and staff stress…
“We have maintained that we are open to working with LeO representatives to address these issues. Shamefully the chief ombudsman has confirmed a refusal to formally recognise PCS claiming, ‘now is not the right time’.”
LeO has been in crisis for some years now, with staffing a major symptom of it: two years ago a staff survey found that more than 50% of employees wanted to leave in the following 12 months, while half of new recruits left in their first two years.
However, last March it appeared that staff morale was on the up.
Nonetheless, as Mr McFadden told Legal Futures this week, LeO has had up to 20% fewer people on the operations side than it needed over the past year. However, a new national recruitment campaign has led to 41 investigators joining the organisation this month, actually 12 more than presently needed in anticipation of attrition in the coming months.
If an organisation with more than 21 employees does not agree to recognise a union, the union can apply for statutory recognition from the Central Arbitration Committee. This could involve a ballot of employees, following campaigns by both sides.
PCS national officer, Andrew Lloyd, added: “It’s a disgrace that the organisation fails to recognise the serious issues that our members are facing. In the absence of a commitment to work with PCS we will press ahead and launch a formal recognition campaign that will legally force recognition.
“The campaign will cause mass disruption that is completely avoidable, but the intransigent actions of the employers’ representatives leave us with no alternative. We will not accept the continuing position were our members concerns go unaddressed and unresolved.”
“The formal recognition campaign will start shortly, the disruption is completely avoidable but comes in response to the employer’s inept ability to resolve matters.”
In response, Mr McFadden said it was both “disappointing and misleading” to assert that LeO was in disarray and unaware of the challenges it faced.
“It is a position which is out of touch with the discussions the Office for Legal Complaints [LeO’s governing board] and the Legal Ombudsman have been having openly with our people and our stakeholders over the last year.”
Stressing that LeO has been “open and transparent” about the issues, he went on: “Over the last year we have worked continuously to engage with our people, listen to their ideas and suggestions for improvement, and, together, deliver new ways of working.
“As a result, we have stabilised the organisation, delivered on performance targets for five consecutive months and are on course to deliver 32% more customer outcomes in 2021/22.
“Staff productivity has been increasing across the year, and investigation times are 16% quicker than at the beginning of 2021/22.”
Mr McFadden LeO’s success depended “first and foremost” on its staff “and we will continue to listen and engage with our staff as our recovery progresses and as we maintain our focus on making LeO a great place to work”.