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2020: The Year Ahead

It has become a tradition for me to use the first SCOAF blog of the year to look at the year ahead. I look forward to writing this at the start of each year, but especially this year. Why? Well, not only does 2020 mark the fifth year of operation for SCOAF but because my term as Ombudsman ends on 31 December 2020, this is my last year as Ombudsman. Therefore, it is a particularly poignant blog post for me.

Although our office only reopened last Thursday following the festive break, we are already focused on the incoming work and the wider strategic issues facing us this year.

As I start work on my Annual Report for 2019, I have reviewed the three-point plan I set out in 2018, looking at what I wanted to focus on for the remainder of my term as Ombudsman. While there is additional work my team and I will do this year, I remain committed to achieving these targets.

1. Providing an efficient and high-quality service to complainants, which includes greater transparency and the reduction of our backlog.

As I outlined in my final blog for 2019, we have made significant improvements in how we operate. After an independent review, we streamlined our processes; removing unnecessary procedures and putting in place a clear structure of what matters we will accept for investigation.

Coupled with a continued focus on recruitment, this has led to greater transparency and a substantial reduction of our backlog. We will continue to work on this in 2020.

2. Raising awareness and knowledge of my role across the Armed Forces, through improved training, education and increased visibility.

 In successive annual reports, I have made a range of recommendations relating to improved training and development around Service Complaints. The MOD policy team established the Service Complaints Working Group training committee to review these recommendations. I am very pleased to announce that I recorded a number of VODCASTS that will be used in a variety of training courses from this year.

In addition to this work, my outreach work continues to be a primary focus in 2020.

3. Seeking to ensure that the powers of the Ombudsman are enhanced to meet the needs of complainants. This includes seeking the power to investigate matters of undue delay on behalf of respondents and conduct own initiative investigations.

  Given the challenges my office is facing in terms of resource, this has become a long-term goal that will be continued by the next Ombudsman. However, my team and I still consider these vitally important powers for the long-term success of the Service Complaints system and we continue to collate data and evidence to support the need for increased powers.

We have a new Senior Investigator joining us this month and another hopefully soon after.  Our new staff will be a welcome addition, however, we will still need to increase our resource beyond this in order to not only eradicate our backlog but then go on to consistently deliver a high-quality, timely service to complainants.

This year will continue to be full of challenges and opportunities. Still, I am committed to leaving this organisation in a robust position, able to provide the best possible service and meet whatever may be ahead.