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Maladministration in UK public administration was defined by Richard Crossman, the minister responsible for legislating in 1967 for the UK parliamentary ombudsman, as ‘bias, neglect, inattention, delay, incompetence, ineptitude, perversity, turpitude, arbitrariness and so on’ leading to perceived injustice. It refers to defective administration rather than defective policy. However, in practice, administration and politics are hard to distinguish and over time possible complaints of maladministration have been interpreted with increasing flexibility. Investigation is conducted by a range of ombudsmen including those established for Parliament, the National Health Service, local government, and the parliaments/assemblies created by devolution. Evidence of the extent of complaints of maladministration provides a mixed picture. On the one hand, figures for 2003–4 indicate that the UK parliamentary ombudsman alone received 2,319 complaints. However, many were not taken forward, 919 were resolved by the organization which had been complained against taking appropriate action that satisfied the complainant, and only 148 were accepted for statutory investigation. The health service ombudsman generally investigates little more than a hundred complaints per year. The local commissioners for administration, nevertheless, receive rather more, the commissioner for England commonly receiving thousands rather than hundreds. The relative significance of these figures as a barometer of competence in public administration is impossible to state. However, the very investigation of maladministration has provided a legitimation for public provision made necessary by the shortcomings of other forms of accountability in central government, and by the need to reassure the public following state reform and territorial decentralization.


Subjects: Politics — Law.

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