This week marks the second year of the Office of the Service Complaints Ombudsman and our 1st birthday! I thought it only fitting to use my first blog of the year to at the year ahead and what I hope to achieve in 2017.
Our office reopened Tuesday after the Christmas break and we are already moving full steam ahead! Applications and enquiries continue to come through by email, post and phone even when we are not here and there are always ongoing investigations to complete. My team and I have returned from leave energised for the year ahead and eager to build on the success of 2016. Looking at the calendar and our forecasts it is shaping up to be a very busy twelve months, but we are ready to rise to the challenge.
This year we expect to receive more applications for investigations into alleged maladministration and also the substance (merits) of complaints that have completed the internal MOD system. The number of these types of applications was increasing towards the end of last year as more Service complaints were resolved by the Services and became eligible to be scrutinised by my office. These are by far the most complex of all the investigations I have the power to conduct and therefore the resources of my office will be truly tested.
Over the next year there are a number of issues that I want to examine more closely in relation to Service complaints. I want to ensure that those Service personnel who are Reservists understand that my office is open to them should they ever need it and also develop a deeper understanding of their experiences. Do they complain about the same issues, or is their experience unique? I want to look further at the issue of Mental Health and how my office can be better prepared to recognise and respond to those individuals who are affected by mental health issues. This will involve looking at what we do now and whether change is needed going forward. I also want to look more closely at the issue of Service complaints concerning sexual harassment. Although they do not form the majority of Service complaints received, even one complaint regarding this issue is of serious concern. I will be looking closely at how individuals (predominately women, but also men) who make a Service complaint about sexual harassment find that experience and whether there are any recommendations I can make to ensure that the process does not compound the distress they may have already experienced.
But it isn’t only the core work of the office that will keep us busy this year. Next week I fly to the Falkland Islands to visit Service personnel based there. Visiting different units is an essential part of my role and it is important for me to connect with individual personnel and learn from them about the work that they do and the issues they face on a daily basis, both positive and negative. In addition to the visits I conduct at home throughout the year I try to make one international trip and this year I am very much looking forward to meeting the men and women on the Falkland Islands.
March will see the publication of my first Annual Report as Ombudsman. Although the last Annual Report went out under the SCO logo, it was reporting on the final year of the Service Complaints Commissioner and the old Service complaints system. I expect that this report on the first year of the new system will attract significant interest and I look forward to reporting on the work that was done by both my office and MOD – specifically the Services – over the course of 2016.
In October my office will be hosting the 9th International Conference of Ombuds Institutions for the Armed Forces (ICOAF). This annual conference brings together Ombudsmen with jurisdiction over their country’s Armed Forces to discuss important issues and look at what value those institutions around the world can add. The theme of this year’s conference is The Moral Compass and the Armed Forces and we will be exploring issues such as mental health, diversity and young people in the Armed Forces. I am exceptionally proud to be hosting the conference this year and my team and I will strive to ensure we deliver not only a great programme, but one that produces meaningful outcomes – which is the ultimate aim of everything that we do.
I hope you all had an enjoyable break and managed to spend some time with your loved ones and I look forward to meeting many of you over the next twelve months.