Is the Spotlight on Scrutiny conference really the first time Scrutiny has taken centre stage? It certainly signals a change in the air. Some would say the aspirations of the Local Government Act 2000 are, after the hard work undertaken to develop scrutiny, ready to take centre-stage; ready to lead improvement in our public services on behalf of the citizen.
There are already many collaborations we can acknowledge are challenging our perceptions of scrutiny; Regional Education Consortia, projects funded by the Regional Collaboration Funds, and the continued development of Local Service Boards and Single Integrated Planning. The stage is big enough to increase the cast significantly, and build on and develop the existing practices. This means Scrutiny has to be more responsive, ensure appropriate challenge, and deliver effective accountability. This is the new backdrop to public service in Wales, and scrutiny is well placed to deliver.
Front of stage is the Scrutiny Development Fund, encouraging bids which are prepared to be innovative in considering the impact on scrutiny of new models of delivery, and which explore the optimum way to ensure scrutiny remains integral to public services oversight.
Of course it’s taken some time in development; we’ve had Beecham and Simpson along the way highlighting the potential benefits of collaboration on the delivery of public services. The experience to date has clearly indicated the need to deliver appropriate accountability frameworks to ensure those involved in the design and delivery of public services are held to transparent and effective account.
The Welsh Government has placed an increasing emphasis on the potential for collaboration to create a scenario in which public service partners deliver high-quality and cost-effective public services with reduced resources. The Minister for Local Government and Government Business has consistently emphasised the response to financial pressures is not simply to do things differently, but to do different things.
Now, as the stage is set for the Conference, our thoughts turn to the impending publication of the report of the Commission on Public Service Delivery and Governance.
Scrutiny is a crucial and integral component of the changing face of public service design and delivery; whatever models are adopted effective scrutiny must take centre stage in the web of accountability. Those responsible will perform their executive decision-making role all the better if challenged appropriately.
The Welsh Government wants scrutiny present when ideas for the development of new collaborative public service delivery arrangements are developed, and not, as has been the case too often in the past, after decisions have been made when it becomes much harder to gain recognition of the importance of ensuring effective accountability.
Of course at the heart of this is the Local Government Measure 2011, which is the foundation for a scrutiny function responsive to, and supportive of, changing models of service design and delivery. Joint Overview and Scrutiny Regulations, allowing Local Authorities to establish Joint Committees to scrutinise jointly-commissioned and delivered services, are in place.
Importantly there is still an opportunity to shape the narrative as the consultation on Designated Persons is on-going and will conclude on 21 November. All feedback is welcome on how this can enable effective arrangements for the scrutiny of services delivered by public service partnerships.
One final point, all participants can benefit from the support available from the Centre for Public Scrutiny, funded to provide bespoke support for scrutiny in Wales. Its programme assists the development of a scrutiny function able to respond effectively to changing patterns of public service delivery while at the same time delivering the essence of good scrutiny – local challenge to ensure citizens receive the level and quality of service they have a right to expect.
Richard Shearer, Welsh Government.