Firstly, thanks to the Wales Audit Office for the invitation to the ‘Scrutiny in the Spotlight’ seminar and the opportunity to view at first hand the shared learning that is taking place across the public sector in Wales.
I set out from Dublin with three goals in mind:
- To find out more about this Scrutiny thing that everybody in Wales seems to be so enthusiastic about!
- To see the approach taken by the Wales Audit Office to the administration and delivery of shared learning seminars.
- To explore the potential for collaboration and information sharing between the audit offices in Ireland and Wales.
Prior to the seminar, I have to admit that I was sceptical about the relevancy for me of discussions about the scrutiny function in local government (local authorities in Ireland do not fall under the mandate of our office and are audited by a separate Local Government Audit Service). However, it struck me during one of the workshops that scrutiny in a broader sense is part of any effective governance regime.
Now I might be wrong (it wouldn’t be the first time), but I think that a critical aspect of well-functioning scrutiny is about putting the right questions to the right people at the right time (and continuing to ask them until you get satisfactory answers!). That principle is obviously just as relevant to those charged with governance in a school in Cork or a hospital in Galway, as it is to local government in Wales.
As for my second goal, I was particularly interested in seeing whether the five hosting partners could work together to deliver a seamless programme. With so many parties involved, there was the potential for mixed messages or an over-packed agenda. In that sense, I think the workshop format worked very well, allowing multiple themes to be explored and enabling participants to choose the ones most relevant to their own work.
As an aside, I have to say that my personal highlight of the day was the presentation from Peter Watkin Jones on the public inquiry into the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust. While the subject matter had the potential to cast a cloud over proceedings, the speaker was able to throw light on the failings that occurred and offer hope of a brighter future. While we all know the imperative of learning from our own mistakes and experiences, it can be just as valuable (and a lot less painful) to learn from failings in other jurisdictions.
Just to prove that audit offices do practice what they preach, I met with members of the good practice exchange team the morning after the seminar to discuss opportunities for future collaboration and shared learning between our offices.
So with my three goals achieved (a triple crown, you might say), I turned for home.
On a final note, I have to say how impressed I was by the number of contributions made in the Welsh language during the seminar and how this was facilitated (without any fuss) by the organisers. I think it’s fair to say that the Irish language faces many similar challenges, so maybe this is another area where shared learning is in order.
Slán agus beannacht libh go léir.
Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General (Irish National Audit Office)