- Invite your critics to a meeting and state that you are ready to listen and learn.
2. When face to face with your critics tell them how appalled you are at the way they have been treated.
“I’m not patronising you, I’ve read the cases, I’ve been shocked at the things…I came as an Ombudsman from legal services, to Higher Education, now to this, and I’ve never seen anything, in terms of stress, and bereavement, and tragedy, like these cases, so this is a different….and I absolutely accept that …and I need to pay tribute to Della, who I’ve now met for the third time, and who tells it exactly how it is, without compromise or fear …”
3. Blame the failure on the previous Ombudsman.
“They produced….this is my predecessor…they produced a beautifully written report which set out, very quickly, what PHSO was going to do. And if you look at it …it didn’t deliver….and I’m not putting myself in that position. I’m thinking, and I’m saying to you, this is difficult, I’m listening very….I need the space to be able to think about how to proceed. Now, as far as review is concerned, and we may not agree about this, so, you know, I’m happy to have the argument that I had….one of the things that annoys me about PHSO is the number of times we screw it up by not listening properly or not investigating properly, so that it comes back for a review, and then even the review is not done properly. So I’ve inherited a fat file of cases from my predecessor, which have gone on for years, where, if we’d only looked at it properly and rigorously, on the first occasion, it could have been resolved, or whatever term you want to use, very quickly. Now we’ve got to stop that, you know, I go to review meetings to look at what’s there, and, you know, this is perhaps the third or fourth time, in which that has been requested and not been satisfactory. What I want to do is to make the review, if there has to be one, rigorous, and authoritative, so that we can say, “yes, you’re right” or “no, with respect, you’re not right” …”
4. Suggest that retraining the staff will put everything right.
“…but you see this is the problem…as a first step I need to do all these things, in order to take this organisation forward. We’ve got to look again at our vision…to make sure that people in the organisation understand what an Ombudsman is about. For me it’s about being independent, it’s about being impartial, it’s about being trustworthy. If we can’t be those three things, then we’re not a proper Ombudsman service. But we have to inculcate that from the top of the organisation right the way to the bottom. And then, we have to make this organisation, on the basis of the things that you’ve said, more professional, in the way we do things. Independent investigations. You’ve explained how it’s not, in your view, as independent as it needs to be. Clinical advice. Impartiality. Empathy. All these things need a notch up, and what we’re doing, is making sure, that people in the organisation have the skills….that they’ve not had for years….”
5. Stick by this objective even though the problems go well beyond staff training.
Critic: Oh come on Mr Behrens, look, you’re pointing out a speck, when there’s a plank the size of, I don’t know, Epping Forest. Look, you know, all of this stuff is just trivial. Look, if they haven’t already got the honesty to do a proper investigation now, what sort of training programme, and all this business, is going to change it. There’s nobody in this room, I can safely say, who would deliberately hush up, wrongdoing by someone in the public sector. Why are there people in your organisation who are willing to do it? This is a matter of honesty and integrity, it’s got nothing to do with empathy and so on…..let’s get the honesty right.
RB. No, I reject your viewpoint…
Critic: Well, you might reject it but the evidence suggests otherwise…
RB. Well, that’s your view…
Critic: No it’s not, it’s the evidence…
6. Close the meeting with the promise of continued dialogue to show genuine good will.
“For me, what I’ve heard is valuable, you’ve been tolerant with me, and I want to continue this conversation. I am prepared, as part of our strategic review, of governance, to think about how to incorporate learning from your experience, into either a user panel, or part of our core objectives, or both. I put that to you as a genuine offer. It’s not going to solve anything, but it creates a regular dialogue, in a way that will help me to make sure that we are listening on a regular basis.”
7. Once your critics have left, close down further discussion due to ‘unwarranted’ criticism.