Scrutiny for the well-being of future generations – more questions than answers?

In January, we are holding a seminar which is going to challenge how public services in wales need to rethink how they hold members and officers to account in relation to future generations. We recognise that this is a step change for public services and we caught up with our colleague Tim Buckle who has a foot in both camps – working on a Wales Audit Office review of local authority scrutiny arrangements during 2017-18, and helping shape this seminar.

There have been numerous conversations about the term ‘scrutiny’, we thought it would be helpful to clarify how this fits with the seminar in January.

The Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act (WFG Act) challenges public services in Wales to work differently. So what does this mean for scrutiny? That’s what we’ll be discussing and working through in the seminar in January 2018. But before we start talking about that, in this blog I wanted to talk about another question, what do we mean by ‘scrutiny’?

My initial reaction to this question is….well more questions! It depends who you ask? It depends who’s doing the scrutinising? It depends who’s being scrutinised? Do we mean local government overview and scrutiny because that has specific roles set out in legislation? Do we mean the process or function or scrutiny more broadly across the 44 public bodies covered by the WFG Act? But then in trying to work differently I’ll ask another question – does it really matter that we don’t have a succinct definition? Maybe not, as long as we are all talking about broadly the same type of activity then we can still discuss what might work, what doesn’t work and what might need to change including possibly the behaviours of the scrutineers and the scrutinised. Maybe one of the things we all need to come to terms with is that in a complex, fast moving world where change is constant we have to accept that not everything can be neatly defined and compartmentalised?

The term scrutiny is commonly used in local government because Councils in Wales have at least one ‘overview and scrutiny committee’. But the process of ‘scrutiny’ also takes place in councils in many different forums and processes – officers ‘scrutinise’ performance information, as do Cabinet Members. In any public body there will be some ‘scrutiny’ of performance, budgets and policies. To keep things simple what we are really talking about is holding decision-makers to account, challenging performance, policies and ways of working, reviewing outcomes and so on and so on…. There are probably quite a few other words that we could use to describe what we mean by the process of ‘scrutiny.’

If we follow this logic this also means that simple designations of the ‘scrutineers’ and the ‘scrutinised’ are also too simplistic. There are some obvious groups who will probably see themselves as part of the ‘scrutiny community’ – scrutiny committee members and scrutiny officers in local government, non-executive board members and so on, but cabinet members and executive board members may also find themselves scrutinising the way in which their own organisations have acted in accordance with the sustainable development principle. Crucially they may also be holding partner organisations collectively to account on Public Service Boards – accountability isn’t always vertical it can be horizontal too….

So what does this mean for delegates attending the event in January 2018? It means we want them to bring their knowledge and experiences of scrutiny – whether as a ‘scrutineer’, as the ‘scrutinised’, or as someone who’s observed scrutiny in action – and to share this with people from other organisations and sectors. It means we hope that delegates learn from each other and can work through solutions to common (or not so common) barriers to effective scrutiny to help improve the wellbeing of future generations and to find solutions that will work in their organisations. To help do this, at the event, delegates will be challenged to think differently about scrutiny, about what effective scrutiny means and about why they think it’s important for the wellbeing of future generations?

The WFG Act requires public bodies to challenge themselves to reconsider what they do and how they do it. This challenge is not limited to a single policy area, team or function and it is recognised that the change won’t happen overnight. Scrutiny, in all its forms, could potentially play a key role in driving that change by ensuring the right questions are asked, at the right time.

Wales Co-Operative

Casey Edwards @casey_walescoop from the Wales Co-Operative Centre @WalesCoOpCentre has blogged for us about how housing co-operatives are helping to build resilient communities.  The North Wales leg of our #WAOADM event is next week.

No two housing co-operatives are the same; it’s not a one size fits all approach. Co-operative housing is about communities having democratic control over decision-making about their homes, neighbourhoods and communities. It is a flexible and innovative approach to ways in which we meet the housing needs and the aspirations of local neighbourhoods. Co-operatives can be developed in either new or existing housing and can cover a range of tenancies.

The Co-Operative Housing Project was established in 2011 and is managed by the Wales Co-Operative Centre, and supported by the Confederation of Co-Operative Housing. The project has helped to deliver over 130 homes across Wales and is supporting the delivery of many more by developing expertise in different co-operative models and providing advice to developers and co-operative groups.

I joined the Wales Co-Operative Centre in May 2017 as the project advisor and have realised it takes a lot of hard work from a lot of people to get these schemes ‘shovel ready’. All of the housing schemes have developed in contrasting ways and adopted different models, from the different ways in which schemes were instigated and funded; how individuals came to be involved; to the size, nature and tenure of the housing co-operative. So does all of this hard work actually pay off?

Being part of a housing co-op is about more than just having an affordable roof over your head. It is about being part of a support system, helping yourself but also taking the responsibility to help others in the wider community. Read about how Luana, at Loftus Village Association, is helping to bring the community together through organising events and social activities.

Examples like this also show how living in a housing co-op can also help to tackle isolation and loneliness, especially amongst the vulnerable and the elderly. Co-operative communities form close bonds and look after one another; that feeling of being part of a community which is hard to come by in the 21st century. Haydn from Old Oak Co-Operative shows how being involved in the co-op has helped him grow in confidence and take on responsibility within the community.

Living in a diverse, supportive community also gives people the chance to share knowledge and skills with each other, that maybe they wouldn’t have had the opportunity to learn living in more traditional environments. As part of the development of the co-op, tenants are involved in a rigorous training programme which includes topics such as co-operative principles, governance and housing management. They learn new transferrable skills which can help them improve their employment status or give them the confidence to change career. Our scheme Ty Cyfle is empowering young people to manage their housing independently, learning new skills along the way.

This self-help and self-responsibility approach to addressing housing need is having a much bigger impact than just providing affordable homes, it is creating self-sufficient, resilient and healthy communities, which can reduce the demand on wider support services.

Living in a community-led housing scheme can offer the kind of support that public services are increasingly finding it difficult to provide, often in a more personal and cost-efficient way. The Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act has now placed a duty on public bodies to think more about the long-term; to work better with people, communities and each other; to prevent problems and to take a more joined up approach. Co-operative housing is doing so already.

The seven wellbeing goals compliment the seven co-operative principles developed by the International Co-Operative Alliance, which all co-operatives should adhere to. They both emphasize the importance of developing attractive, viable, healthy and sustainable communities, that maintain, even enhance the natural environment. A democratic and fair society with an economy that generates wealth, without discrimination. A society that enables people to fulfil their potential no matter their background or circumstances. A society that provides employment opportunities and education and training for a skilled workforce. A co-operative society that highlights the importance of social and cultural wellbeing.

Co-operative and community-led housing can be a part of the solution to the housing crisis in the UK. But more than just a quick fix, it can be a part of a long term sustainable option to providing affordable homes and creating resilient communities.

The Wales Co-Operative centre offers support and advice to any new or existing organisation wishing to develop co-operative housing. We can provide access to experts’ advice about co-operative housing and we can provide skills and development training for members of a co-operative. We have recently developed a Co-operative Housing Pilot Toolkit, developed to help community groups, housing associations, co-ops, local authorities and others in the initial stages of considering how to develop new co-operative & community-led homes. Take a look.

More information on co-operative housing and what support is available can be obtained from the Wales Co-operative Centre on 0300 111 5050 or at co-op.housing@wales.coop.

Faster closing – it’s good to talk

Following on from our recent event on ‘Early closure of local government accounts’, Matthew Coe, Financial Audit Manager at the Wales Audit Office, talks about his experience of the day and the important discussions he encountered with delegates…

On 10 October 2017 I attended the latest Good Practice Exchange shared learning seminar in Cardiff on the Early closure of local government accounts. Alongside many representatives from local authorities, there were a large number of staff from the Wales Audit Office, all keen to understand lessons from those already piloting faster closing timetables.

In the first plenary session there was a lot of audience participation with table groups considering a number of mini scenarios on how not to manage the accounts closure and audit processes. Even with some of the Wales Audit Office “actors” hamming it up for all they were worth, it was clear that everyone in the room recognised we need teamwork and regular communication to make a success of this transition.

As is usual at Good Practice Exchange events, we then broke into smaller workshop groups covering three particular aspects:

  • Making Assets Early Closure Friendly – ensuring the streamlining of asset valuations and capital accounting;
  • Knowing why we want what we want! – what is needed in terms of working paper requirements; and
  • The importance of Internal Quality Assurance on your Financial Statements – highlighting why internal quality assurance checks are critical to a successful audit.

These workshops looked at practical actions that we could take. It was particularly useful having a trained – tamed? – valuer present in the asset valuation workshop to explain his work and give his perspective on how to give valuations sooner.

The big learning points for me from these workshops were:

  1. Everyone agreed but more importantly accepted that there will be more estimates in the accounts.
  2. In addition it is likely there will be more uncorrected misstatements noted in the auditor’s reports (ISA260 reports) – BUT this is not necessarily a bad thing: a key message to relay to those charged with governance.
  3. You can actually do things earlier on non-current assets – it is not solely a year-end exercise after all – and together we just need to think creatively about it.
  4. Finally, auditors need to be clearer on working papers they need – not want, but actually need – and in what format with finance staff. On the flip side, finance staff also need to change the way they prepare and provide the working papers.

In the final plenary session I was struck most with just how long I had spent discussing the detailed arrangements with the finance staff from Cardiff Council. While we do cover this in our work as an audit team, as a Client Manager, I personally seldom get a chance to discuss the detailed approach to working papers with the finance team preparing them. For me, to have nearly four hours to go through the practicalities and challenges of changing both Council and Wales Audit Office approaches and ways of doing things, was incredibly valuable.

There and then we were able to agree a number of key principles such as early engagement on changes, quick resolutions to queries by both sides, and further meetings to improve supporting documentation for the 2017-18 accounts (meetings we have already starting arranging).

Also not only did I find that we agreed on the need to change both our approaches (and were positive about doing something about it for 2017-18) but I could communicate the collegiate way of working that sets the tone of our audit work first hand.

Finally I would say that communication really is the key – preferably by just talking to the right people face to face – so that you can talk around the implications of potential problems early on makes a big difference to how smooth an accounts/audit process can be. Early engagement on changes in accounting policies, methodologies and potential issues, as well as carrying out earlier testing, will certainly smooth the way to a faster closing Nirvana!

10 Steps School Project

Georgina James, Melin Homes

As I’m writing this, I’m sat at my desk working towards developing our offer for Melin’s schools program over the next 5 years, a schools program that didn’t exist 4 years ago.

Flashback to our energy efficiency project, Powering Up Communities and we’re just entering schools doing a little energy program training Junior Green Energy Champions. Our street naming competitions with schools were a success and we were offering our Melin minibus to schools for educational trips. Overtime, the work we were doing in schools developed, with the eco program helping schools to achieve their ECO flags with Keep Wales Tidy and the groups were creating energy saving songs to well known tunes and performing them at our events. I’d say our first step in our recognition of the importance of working with schools, was deciding to do an end of project celebration event with the children we had worked with. We worked with partners such as ICE, Keep Wales Tidy, Constructing Excellence in Wales and Techniquest to deliver a carousel of workshops with over 100 children and teachers attending. The event was a massive success and it was there that we thought “WOW! These young people we are working with are our future residents, staff members, and local councillors or supporters” We need to make sure that our work encompasses the young people of our communities and what better way to do it than through schools. Now our journey on schools wasn’t an over night success, it took months if not years, of developing projects and relationships with schools and partners.

One of our partnerships was with Career Wales, who we had done ad hoc ambassador work for previously.  They approached us to see if we would like a business partnership with 2 secondary schools that were situated within our area. We have now signed up to a 3 year business partnership with the two schools and are focusing on a three-pronged approach between the pupils, staff and parents, to ensure we make an impact and difference to the people we work with.

And the best part, Melin have committed to a delivery of a schools program for the next 5 years. Had Melin not had the idea to do the little bits in schools then we wouldn’t have progressed to the stage we’re at now. New projects focusing on the health and wellbeing of pupils and teachers. Which leads us to the 10 Steps project… If you want to know about where we are now and what we’ve got coming up then come along to Wales’ Audit Offices seminar on Using Alternative Delivery Models to deliver public services.

Rural Skills

Working together since 2009, Gwalia (Pobl – @poblgroup) and the Brecon Beacons National Park Authority (@BreconBeaconsNP) have developed a series of outdoor projects which have enhanced the lives of those living in supported housing and outreach clients.

One of the first initiatives was Brecon Beacons Community Champions which, with funding from NRW (Natural Resources Wales @NatResWales), supported young people in outdoor activity training. Participants all achieved their Bronze National Navigation Scheme Award (@nass_office) and went on to independently arrange and take part in their own choice of activities.

The activity projects so inspired the service users from the Brecon Foyer (Gwalia) they formed a local committee and constituted themselves as a group. The aims of the group were to provide inclusive and accessible activities and learning opportunities through anti discriminatory practice, to improve the image of young people and to increase awareness of issues affecting them. The group has since successfully gone on to secure funding for projects including an educational trip to Auschwitz following a project on Jewish History; a residential outdoor activity trip to Devon; visits to London and Rome and a healthy living project.

Further joint projects have included Geocaching Development 2010-12, Rural Skills 2012- 2014, Park Pathways 2014, Mental Health and Wellbeing Day 2015 and most recently Awards for All funding which has enabled the 2016/17 Rural Skills training programme to go ahead. This project has been hugely successful with all participants successfully achieving Agored Cymru (@AgoredCymru) accreditation in Outdoor Skills, Cutting docks, brambles,hedges and Practical Woodland Skills.

The combination of training and increased confidence in participants has been inspirational and resulted in the following outcomes: 1 individual has gained full time employment;

4 individuals have engaged with and participated in the BBNPA/Princes Trust (@PrincesTrustWales) Get into the Brecon Beacons programme including a two-week “Get  Into” programme  and Explore Enterprise, 2 individuals successfully recruited onto the BBNPA/  Princes Trust partnership  Get Into the Brecon Beacons 3-months work programme as Trainee Rangers – see ITV Wales coverage of the trainees here.

Matt Baker and the team from BBC Countryfile (@BBCCountryfile) joined the group on a Geocaching activity day to discover how accessing the natural environment with a little bit of new technology can trigger new ways of keeping active and improve mental wellbeing.

Inside Housing (@insidehousing) followed on from the television coverage and produced this article highlighting how Housing Support can enrich lives beyond just tenancy support.

The enthusiasm, participation and progression of everyone engaged in these projects  demonstrates the potential this work has to make a significant difference to the ways in which socially excluded groups view, access and derive socio-economic benefit from the outdoor environment.

In summary these locally focused projects have been developed by both partners to give the best possible support to young disadvantaged people living in both urban and rural areas of the Brecon Beacons National Park to help increase their access to education, employment and training opportunities.

Rural Skills

Using alternative delivery models to deliver public services

In researching this year’s alternative delivery models event, one common theme kept coming up: the importance of safe and secure housing and the organisations which are providing this service. 

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, written in 1943, describes shelter as a fundamental physiological human need, alongside air, water and food.  You don’t get much more important than that.  So perhaps it isn’t surprising that in looking at alternative models for delivering public services, we found housing in the middle of it all.

But it isn’t just that the provision of a warm, safe and secure home is crucially important to a person’s stability and wellbeing.  The various organisations across Wales which are charged with delivering housing services are leading the way on some innovative, preventative, collaborative and impactful projects across a variety of service areas.  They are delivering services which might normally have had to be delivered by another public body or that are preventing demand on one or multiple public bodies; and they are partnering with public bodies, third sector, citizens and each other to deliver these services.  In terms of the Wellbeing for Future Generations Act, despite not being legislated by it, the housing sector is leading the way on how to implement it.

Housing organisations are well-placed to understand the needs of their tenants, they are ‘on the doorstep’, and are pushing forward with a wide range of projects to support their tenants.  Trish Hoddinott (Melin Homes), who is presenting a workshop at our event about a schools programme, summed it up for me when she said, “These are our tenants of the future and we want them to be healthy, happy and economically viable.”  This is the kind of preventative, long term thinking that will help to deliver the Wales We Want and to fulfil the seven goals of the Wellbeing for Future Generations Act.

The Welsh Government’s recent publication of its Programme for Government, ‘Taking Wales Forward 2016-2021’, puts secure housing as a priority for a Prosperous and Secure Wales.  It also talks about improving and reforming public services and facing issues through new ways of working, joined up programmes and working across traditional boundaries.

With this seminar, we will be showcasing some of the projects that we found during our research for this event.  These projects are tackling issues with young people, older people, domestic violence, mental health, supported housing, and in rural communities.  They are supporting people to stay in their homes and to ensure better outcomes for them.  They include partnerships, collaborations and multi-agency projects from across the sectors.  They are exemplifying prevention through intervention.  They are breaking through traditional boundaries.  As Matt Dicks (Chartered Institute of Housing), one of our panel members, stated “Small projects and frontline changes to the way we plan services could drive and push forward changes at a higher strategic level”.

There are many challenges that lie ahead for all organisations providing services to the public.  How best can we all work together to deliver the most effective services possible for all citizens?  Who needs to drive partnerships?  Who needs to be around the table?  Who is best-placed to deliver that service?  Thinking differently about how services are delivered is what alternative delivery models is all about.

Our Alternative Delivery Models event is being held in Cardiff on November 22nd and in Llanrwst on December 7thClick on the link to register.

Should we be moving away from appraisals?

In our latest blog, Russell Higgins, Human Resources Learning Partner at the Wales Audit Office, looks at the appraisal process and shares his experiences from the CIPD learning and development show back in May…

Over the last few of years a growing number of employers have been moving away from the formal annual appraisals in favour of holding dialogue with employees. Leaders everywhere are realising their people are their organisation’s greatest asset, and traditional performance management processes don’t influence employees’ skills and abilities. Research has suggested that rather than motivating and supporting people to do better, the appraisal is often dreaded because of the time and energy it was taking.

Should we be moving away from appraisals?

In May, I attended the CIPD learning and development show, where I attended a session on moving from appraisal to coaching and continuous feedback. Both organisations have moved away from traditional annual performance appraisals, to regular check-ins and ongoing feedback and development. Speakers from both River Island and General Electric shared their reasons of moving away from appraisals in order to increase productivity and organisational performance. The aim of the session was to explain the reasons why the organisations had moved away from the appraisal

What struck me at the very beginning was just how well attended this session was!

The speaker from River Island shared that previously only 7% of annual appraisals were being completed as required and therefore the traditional approach to performance management was not working. Many staff in the family owned River Island felt disengaged with the whole appraisal process, when they researched the performance management they realised that what was important to them was:

  • Individuals knowing what is expected of them;
  • Individuals knowing what the department goals are; and,
  • Individuals knowing what the business priorities are.

With this in mind they moved from a traditional performance management scheme to one that focuses on having 1-2-1 feedback quickly (in the moment), instead of at the end of the year. Within River Island, 1-2-1 discussions need to be appropriate and conversations do not need to be an overly complicated drawn out formal discussion. What struck me about career development is that the responsibility is owned firmly with the individual and not the manager, therefore personal responsibility and accountability is the key.

General Electric shared with the audience that they have rebranded feedback and now call it insights, as they suggest that the word feedback has negative undertones for people. If staff within GE observe a behaviour that is impactful and effective then they share that insight with the person straight away, this is known as continuous 360 degree feedback. In addition, if staff observe behaviours that have an negative impact then this insight can be shared.

These examples show just how organisations are moving away from the traditional methods of performance management. However there was recently a case where an “overly promoted” medical practice manager won a constructive dismissal case against her former employer, where the employment tribunal said that if employers fail to properly conduct performance management procedures for employees they consider to be underperforming, “issues and resentments [will be] stored up for the future”.

The Wales Audit Office have been working on ensuring that the appraisal system isn’t a burden and really adds value.

As we look at what performance management looks like in the future, instead of looking backwards, an enhanced conversation with the employee that looks forward may be helpful in ensuring that the organisation is forward thinking and looking at what the future holds. For me, we need to be thinking about what support, development and management the employee needs in order to reach their true potential. The importance of on-going feedback is key and should not be left until the end of the year, it should be discussed on an on-going basis. Employees should take ownership for their individual personal development plan (PDP).