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Introducing our Chief Of Operations

In 2017 the Office of the Service Complaints Ombudsman went through a restructure in order to provide greater oversight of and resilience in the operational arm of the office. As part of that restructure, two new positions were created – Chief of Operations and Chief of Staff. This month the Ombudsman is turning her blog over to the Chief of Operations, Eleanor Handslip, so that she can tell you more about the role and what she hopes to achieve.

I joined the OSCO in August 2017, having worked as a civil servant in various other government departments for some years. My role as Chief of Operations is a new one and was created as a result of a restructuring of the Ombudsman’s office. The change had taken place as the volume of casework could not be realistically managed under the existing structure. I work closely with Ian Keith, the Chief of Staff who has responsibility for all of the business side of the organisation.

I have responsibility for the Enquiries and Referrals team and the Investigations team, which when fully staffed will be 14 members. What struck me on my arrival was the commitment of the members of both teams to provide the best possible service to Service personnel. The team has been extremely short staffed for a significant period but this has not diminished their commitment to delivering high-quality work. They are conscious that at the end of the telephone or the recipient of their report is an individual who is making or has made the often difficult decision to make a complaint. Due to the nature of the work our staff can hear some distressing stories and speak to individuals who are obviously struggling to cope. Because of this, I am working on ensuring they have the right support by utilising Mental Health First Aiders within the office.  It is important that if someone is struggling they have someone to talk to in addition to their line manager, no matter what their job is.

We are a small office but in 2016 the team handled 1,060 contacts and 405 requests for investigation, both up on the previous year. Working under severe pressure can often cause friction in a team but I have observed a group of individuals who are truly supportive of each other. As Helen Keller said, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”

We are now entering a new period with two new Investigators recruited, plus a Senior Investigator and new Head of Investigations due to join us soon. We are also in the process of training a number of Fee Earning Investigators to take on some of our cases. Our recruitment campaign will progress during the year to ensure the operational side is fully staffed to continue to deliver high-quality reports and improve our delivery times. In the coming year, I will be looking at how we can use the trends we identify from our casework to help build a system in conjunction with the Services that operates more efficiently, effectively and fairly.