A leading public sector watchdog has reported a major increase in the number of complaints against the Northern Ireland government and its agencies.

Northern Ireland Ombudsman Tom Frawley said there was a 15.4% jump in complaints to his office in the last year, and an increase in cases where he detected poor administration or a failure to follow rules.

His annual report also included stinging criticism of the Planning Service, which he said continued to make the same basic errors he has highlighted for years.

Mr Frawley said the tougher economic climate underlined the need for efficiency in publicly funded organisations.

The ombudsman said his office received 681 written complaints. It was an increase in workload which was related partly to a 120% rise in complaints against the health service, though this was attributed to a change in how health-linked complaints were handled.

But his report also noted a jump in the number of maladministration cases in the Assembly and against the health service. Poor administration rulings were made in 21 cases at the Assembly, compared with ten in the previous year. There were 23 rulings in the health sector, compared with ten the previous year.

In his annual report he said he was concerned at basic flaws that continued to surface in the Planning Service.

He said: ‘The number of complaints I received about the actions of the Planning Service increased this year by 13.7%.

‘I see no improvement in general administrative practice despite reassurances from the Planning Service that lessons learned from individual complaints have been fed back to front-line staff.’