Tag Archives: scrutiny

How Swansea Council undertook a scrutiny inquiry into their culture

Logo of the future of governance: Effective decision making for current and future generations

The Wellbeing of Future Generations Act requires organisations to go beyond tinkering at the edge of services into wider cultural change. Dyfrig Williams looks at what can we learn from the City and County of Swansea’s Scrutiny Inquiry into their corporate culture.

Culture is one of those intractable topics. When a problem is cultural, it means there’s no quick fix, no one process to tweak that will automatically help organisations to improve their work.

The good side of this is that it means that organisations tend to go beyond tick box solutions when they identify cultural issues in order to deliver real and lasting change. The bad side of it is that sometimes cultural change is seen as being so difficult that it doesn’t get done at all – the problem is too big to get to grips with.

So when I heard about the City and County of Swansea’s Scrutiny Inquiry into their Corporate Culture, I was immediately interested.

So why did they set up the inquiry?

Councillor Andrew Jones, the Convener of Corporate Culture Scrutiny Inquiry Panel said that:

‘The topic was chosen because, as a Council our corporate culture underpins everything we do, from how we engage with our citizens and provide services to how we treat our staff and grow and develop as an organisation. The challenges faced by the reductions to council budgets pose a threat to that notion of a shared culture. We therefore as Councillors, management and staff have a shared responsibility to respond to these challenges by developing a can do culture that ensures the citizens of Swansea continue to receive the best Council service possible.’

Getting things right at the start

So what can we learn from the pro-active steps that the council have taken to identify ways of improving their culture?

When I spoke to Michelle Roberts from the City and County of Swansea’s Scrutiny team, she emphasised the importance of getting the parameters of the inquiry right at the outset in order to focus on the right areas. The rationale of the review was to ensure that:

  • The council has the right corporate culture to tackle the challenges it faces
  • They create a can do culture to help turn the city around
  • Staff culture is focused on empowerment, personal responsibility, innovation and collaboration.

It’s great to see how the council have ensured that the inquiry has an ongoing legacy by linking it to the work of Leanne Cutts, who’s their Innovation Co-ordinator. As the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act requires, they’ve looked at their long term goals, whilst also identifying quick wins and medium term objectives.

There are some eye-catching proposals that focus on the organisation’s people. They cover the whole staff journey from corporate inductions, mainstreaming innovation into appraisals and developing personal skills to avoid buying in expertise.


We’ve done a fair bit of work around failure over the last couple of years through our Manager Chris Bolton. This work has underpinned a lot of our information sharing and our focus on improvement. So it’s great to see that the council are looking at how they can move away from a blame culture, whilst recognising the external issues that make it difficult (I’ve previously blogged on complex environments and failure). If we’re going to meet the expectations of the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act, we have to be able to take well managed risks and build upon the lessons from failure, as Huw Vaughan Thomas, the Auditor General for Wales, discusses in the video below.

Where to start?

If you want to examine the culture of your organisation, it’s well worth taking a look at this Culture Mapping Tool that’s been developed by Dave Gray, and which The Satori Lab have been using in their work. The stated and unstated levers of the tool are really useful in terms of thinking about what drives the behaviour of public service staff and organisations.

At the Wales Audit Office, we’re working on our approach to auditing the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act. For us as an audit body and for public services generally, it means that we have to change. If organisations try to deliver the seven wellbeing goals through the five ways of working without changing what they do, they’re likely to fail.

The Act gives us the chance to do things a bit differently in Wales. In a time of austerity, we can’t deliver the aspirations of the act whilst tinkering around the edges and adapting what we currently do. For the people of Wales to get the public services that they deserve, we need wholesale cultural change.

#scrusm – sharing scrutiny practice online


We received fantastic feedback on the Scrutiny in the Spotlight Conference that we jointly held with the Centre for Public Scrutiny, Welsh Local Government Association, Welsh Government and Cardiff Business School last year, and a big part of its success was the networking aspect. Councillors, Officers and wider support organisations each had the chance to share issues, but also good practice in their area.

But getting people together from every corner of Wales (and beyond) is an expensive business. We’re looking to continue that networking and information sharing by taking it online.


At 6:30pm on Tuesday 16 September we’ll be taking part in a Twitter chat on scrutiny that’s being facilitated by Dave Mckenna of City and County of Swansea. You can take part in this chat by using the hashtag #scrusm, where the discussion will be centred around getting the public involved.

Virginia Hawkins and Kevin Davies of the National Assembly for Wales ran a workshop on the topic at last November’s event, where they shared their toolkit on involving the community. In this chat we’re looking to hear about any tools, resources or approaches that councillors or officers are using, any issues they’re facing and good things that they’re doing.

We recognise that not everyone is on Twitter so we will be producing a Storify to capture the tweets so that everyone gets to see what happened, just like we do at all our events.

If you’re yet to take to Twitter but think that this might be for you, there are some helpful online guides like this one from Mashable and useful videos like the one below from Hootsuite. There are also some resources on Twitter chats that can help you get to grips with the format.

So whether you’re looking to learn more about how others are approaching their scrutiny, or whether you’d like to share your experiences, we’d love to have you involved in the chat. Because by helping each other to avoid what doesn’t work and sharing what does, we can all play a part in improving public services.


Good Practice in Workforce Change – a guide from Audit Scotland

Audit Scotland's Public Sector Workforce good practice guide

Audit Scotland’s Public Sector Workforce good practice guide

The Auditor General for Wales published the Good Scrutiny? Good Question! improvement study yesterday. We thought this would be a great opportunity to share a good practice guide we like from Audit Scotland on workforce planning – aimed in particular at those involved in scrutinising workforce change programmes.

Scrutiny plays an important role in helping public services improve during challenging financial times. This includes scrutinising and challenging workforce plans and workforce change programmes. In particular, effective scrutiny can support good decisions while allocating resources and provide strategic direction on workforce planning. Unfortunately, as Audit Scotland’s guide explains, “this applies in particular to decisions to reduce workforces; without careful planning workforce reductions can lead to a loss of essential skills; reductions in service quality; and increased pressure on, and lack of motivation among, remaining staff.” So, getting it right is important and good scrutiny plays an important role in this.

Of course, the make up of public sector organisations within and between Wales and Scotland can differ significantly. Organisations could take core good practice considerations from this guide and then adapt these to suit their own needs and risks.

Audit Scotland’s document provides guidance on what good looks like in all stage of workforce planning:

  • developing the workforce plan;
  • selecting different approaches to manage workforce numbers and costs;
  • implementing workforce change (including assigning responsibility and reviewing); and
  • scrutiny of workforce plans and change programmes.

These include some useful key steps to follow, principles of good governance in early departure schemes and case studies from Midlothian Council and NHS Lanarkshire.

Particularly of interest to us, considering the publication of the Good Scrutiny? Good Question! study, is the emphasis the guide places on good practice in scrutiny of workforce planning. Part 2 of the document comprises a useful list of questions based on good practice to help “promote review and reflection and, where necessary, provide a basis for improvement”. This complements nicely the Wales Scrutiny Officers Network ‘Outcomes and characteristics for effective local government overview and scrutiny’, in appendix 2 of the Good Scrutiny? Good Question! report.

Here are some examples of the questions:

  • Does the workforce plan support business change programmes? Does the workforce plan link to the organisation’s corporate objectives?
  • Has the affordability of each approach been tested? Is it clear how the approach will help the organisation to make the changes it needs to make?
  • It is clear who has overall responsibility for ensuring that each workforce change programme is delivered on time and according to plan?
  • Are there suitable systems in place to provide board and elected members with assurance on equality and diversity; service, performance and productivity impacts; and staff wellbeing?

So, we thought this was worth sharing as good practice guide to help those engaged in both workforce planning and scrutiny.

There are quite a few other places to look if you’d like more information about workforce planning or scrutiny:

The Networked Councillor


Towards the end of last year I ran a couple of Networked Councillor sessions at a brilliantly well organised Scrutiny conference in Wales. One of the things that keeps impressing me when I visit Wales is the very real commitment to learning and exploring good practice that you find within both national and local government and one of the ways in which this conference manifested this was in asking each of the facilitators to contribute a follow up blog post. Here, rather belatedly is mine.

I suppose the first thing to note is the, to my mind at least, incredibly strong link between the thinking behind Networked Councillor and opportunities which the scrutiny function offers to really explore ways of doing things differently. This is additionally true in Wales where the Local Government Act (Wales) of 2011 has further opened up access to the scrutiny function within local government. As a result there is a lot of work being done in Wales to explore ways in which we can better involve the public in the process of accountability.

What I appreciated about the conference – and which has stayed with me – was the emphasis on the need to create a culture of accountability. One of the most powerful sessions for me was on the Mid-Staffs review and the fact that the failings there were as much down to organisational behaviours as they were down to process or data.

The Networked Councillor is intended to explore ways to bring about behaviour change as much as it is a way of providing participants with practical views. The starting point for the programme is the need for networked, open, co-productive and digitally native representatives and these are deliberately presented as behaviours rather than a checklist of technical skills. If we apply these same cultural facets to the democratic process then we can see very strong alignment with the way in which we might offer the public an immediate and engaging opportunity to engage through the scrutiny process. Imagine a scrutiny process which is truly open, exists as part of a network of conversations and participation, and makes sense to an increasingly digital and networked society.

Wales is already very well networked, and though the Williams report and resulting reorganisation is going to disrupt the nature of those networks it is not going to change this fact. Because of this I think it’s a place where we could consider what happens after we have a critical mass of networked councillors, and where we can start to open up questions about what a networked democracy might look like. Wales is actively experimenting with the way in which it makes decisions, the way in which government works with the public and in a very real way the way in which it organises the infrastructure of government – why not think about how we might design a democratic system for the networked society?