Tag Archives: Welsh Government

Keep Wales Tidy and Gurnos Men’s Project: Delivering social, economic and health benefits

Darllenwch y flogbost yn Gymraeg

Keep Wales Tidy are known for protecting our environment. However you might not know that they work in other ways to make our communities better places to live. For this post, Ena Lloyd talked to Jake Castle about the Gurnos Men’s Project.

I hadn’t realised until recently that the Keep Wales Tidy office was across the road from our Cathedral Road Offices in Cardiff.  I caught up with their CEO Lesley Jones, as I wanted to know more about the Gurnos project, which is about supporting men into employment. Were there also some health and social care benefits? Lesley said that it would be helpful if Jake Castle, the Senior Project Officer blogged about this really rewarding project that he is leading on.

Here is what Jake shared about the project:

I am the Project Officer for Keep Wales Tidy in Merthyr Tydfil. I work with community groups, schools and individuals to carry out practical environmental projects. One of the most rewarding (and often entertaining) of these groups has been the Gurnos Men’s Project.

The Project was formed two years ago to give a group of long-term unemployed men on the Gurnos Estate the opportunity to get together and take part in a range of activities to help improve the community and develop their own skills and learning. It merged new and existing Keep Wales Tidy volunteers and links to Communities First. At that time, over 90% of the people that were engaged with the local Communities First cluster were women and so there was a clear lack in provision and support for men.

A photo of 6 men who are working in the woods on Gurnos Men's Project

Gurnos Men’s Project

The group soon became dedicated to their work and carried out regular clean-ups, gardening and school grounds improvements. They also take part in basic reading and writing, horticulture and countryside skills courses. I meet with them every fortnight to help plan and deliver local projects and with the help of Communities First we regularly review their activities to ensure their own needs are being met while serving the wider community. I was pleased when I recently secured funding to organise formal training for the group; the combination of their ongoing dedication, hard work and this training has had such positive results.

As no one in the group had taken part in any accredited training for many years, they were all anxious about being tested. It was important that I support them and select appropriate training, six men have now successfully achieved NPTC Level 2 in Safe Use of Brush Cutter and Trimmer Operations. This formal qualification is hugely valuable as it doesn’t expire and the skills gained have helped to improve the confidence of the group and the standard of the work in the community.

All six participants (shown in above photo) are keen to pursue grounds maintenance work as a form of employment;

This has been great for me. I’ve been out of work for a few months now and this is the kind of work I’d like to get back in to. I know this ticket will be needed for loads of jobs and it shows I’ve been active and trying to better myself.

Antony Dunn, volunteer (shown second from the right in the above photo)

The group have been visited by elected representatives and were hugely grateful for the chance to talk about how the work and training had boosted their self-esteem, helped them manage mental health problems and alcoholism, provided them with lots of skills and helped the wider community. The wife of one of the group who is suffering from dementia also spoke of how the group had been a huge help to the both of them, easing the burden on the health and care systems.

It was acknowledged that there’s a real value in the provision for these individuals. Supporting people into employment is, of course, the goal and we are all aware that this may be a long-term process. This model suggests that the interim period (before finding work) can also prove valuable in several other ways.

It seems to me that success for this group has involved a healthy mixture of skills that benefit the individuals, and activities that benefit the community – not forgetting the occasional structured activity for routine and enjoyment! The community benefit is hard to measure; it goes well beyond litter picks as it brings a reduced demand on our health and care services.

In my opinion, the Men’s Project can help increase employment levels and improve Valleys communities. The focus for us all now is to quantify that wide-ranging contribution.

There are many more projects that Keep Wales Tidy are involved in, including Blue Flag, Eco Schools, Green Key. All our programmes are available on our website.

Gwesty Seren: Effective asset transfer and a new way of providing respite care

As we live in challenging economic times, it’s likely that a lot of voluntary organisations and Town and Community Councils will have community assets transferred to them. Dyfrig Williams visited Gwesty Seren to hear the lessons learnt from their community asset transfer and how they deliver respite care.

We are often signposted to examples of good practice, but it’s not so often that we hear about a project with good practice to share for a few different reasons.

We went to Gwesty Seren, a hotel based in Gwynedd that offers supported holidays, to learn about how it’s been transferred successfully to the community. But I also had a broader interest in how they’re providing respite care in a very different way.

The charity’s work

Picture of Gwesty Seren

Gwesty Seren

Seren is a charity that is based in Blaenau Ffestiniog, which provides care for people with learning difficulties. The charity was founded 20 years ago under Care in the Community, with the aim of supporting people to move out of institutions and into the community. People create craft and art, which is then sold in the shop and market garden. This helped people to be independent so that they didn’t rely on fees from Gwynedd Council or private individuals, and it also gives them a chance to get a taste of work. This mentality has continued at Gwesty Seren, where they provide work experience.

Gwesty Seren decided to go further than standard respite care. They wanted to provide a different kind of care, so they created a 3 star hotel with a focus on supporting disabled people. The toilets and rooms have been developed so that they are accessible to everyone.

The hotel also allows families to stay there. Their research showed that a lot of families have received poor respite care in the past, so they weren’t happy to leave their children’s care entirely in the hands of someone they didn’t know. The hotel allows them to stay with their children if they want, but whilst also giving them the break they need. This unique service means that the hotel also provides spaces for people who receive services from nearby councils, like Conwy and Ceredigion, with families even travelling to stay from across the border in England.

The success of the hotel has led to it working with three companies that specialise in holidays for people with learning difficulties, and recently, two further companies that specialise in holidays for physically disabled people began using the facilities. The people who have stayed there often end up coming back and making a block booking.

A photograph of a room at Gwesty Seren

A room at Gwesty Seren

The history of the building

The building itself was originally built by Lord Newborough in 1728 as a summer house. It stayed like this until just after the First World War, when the family took in soldiers who had had an accident or shock in the war to have a break or respite.

In the 1930s the building was given to two Franciscan Monks. They invited homeless people to stay, with the youngest monk travelling to London to invite people to stay at Bryn Llywelyn, as it was called at the time. Then the building was sold to Meirionnydd Council as a residential house for children, before being turned into an old people’s home. In 2010 the Council decided to close it.

Seren made a bid for the building to the Welsh Government and the Big Lottery Fund’s Community Asset Transfer Fund. A full application was submitted, before the work began in 2013. The work was completed in April 2014.

Transferring the building

Usually the transfer of assets from the public sector take place free of charge, but in this case, the council decided to sell the building at less than the market price. The council had to go through committees and raise awareness through the media, so it was not a quick process.

The cost of everything, including the purchase, was around £1,000,000, and applying for grants was a laborious process. Because it required a significant amount, the charity went on to borrow from the Charity Bank.

They were aware that questions would be asked about State Aid, so the charity hired a Cardiff law firm that specialised in it. A report was written on minimising the risk and the document showed the rationale for why it did not break the rules. It was a great help when working with European Officers and the Welsh European Funding Office.

Key messages

So one of the main message from Gwesty Seren is that asset transfer isn’t a quick process. But it’s clear by looking at the comments on their TripAdvisor page that the hard work has been worth it. And from the testimonials of other customers (whether it’s directly to the hotel or in a newsletter), I can see that their respite care that has a big impact on people’s lives, has helped the regeneration of  Blaenau Ffestiniog by creating 10 full time jobs and is actively contributing to the area’s tourist industry.

Asset Transfer: Everything you need to know

What were the key learning points from WCVA’s Asset Transfer event? The National Assets Working Group reflect on the day.

Asset TransferThe Asset Transfer event organised by the WCVA was a day of learning for all of us involved in community asset transfers – community groups, local councils and members of the National Assets Working Group (NAWG). For us in NAWG, it was an opportunity to engage directly with groups taking part in community asset transfers.

Setting out our stall

Sharing a stand with colleagues from the Welsh Government responsible for the Protecting Community Assets consultation, we brought our lifetime supply of Community Asset Transfers in Wales – A Best Practice Guide. By the time Lyn Cadwallader, Chair of One Voice Wales recommended the guidance, all copies of the English language version had gone (luckily, the internet never runs out!)

Our Welsh Government colleagues also offered up copies of their consultation on Protecting Community Assets (closing date 11 September 2015) – please have your say.

Opening Speeches

Jane Hutt AM, Minister for Finance and Government Business, outlined the Welsh Government’s support for community asset transfer and took questions from delegates. One question from the floor (with no easy answer) asked about funding for feasibility studies for community groups looking to take over community assets.

After the Minister’s speech, there were two speakers from the social enterprise sector; Louise Barr from Monwel, discussed their expansion as Wales’ largest signage manufacturer. The second speaker, Dinah Pye, from Cynon Valley Museum outlined their story in negotiating with Rhondda Cynon Taf council to re-open their heritage museum. She outlined the challenges arising from originating as a pressure group, then morphing into Trustees of the facility; namely that they had the correct skillset for the future and the importance of getting expert advice at the right time on contracts and employment law.


We were as keen to learn from the event as we were to engage with people and attended different workshops to gain some coverage of the issues being discussed. These included DTA Wales’ workshop on establishing viability of the community enterprise/ service – exploring how if an asset wasn’t viable, then it could become a liability.

Empower delivered an interesting workshop on developing an entrepreneurial culture within the team – stressing the need to be clear in target setting for outcomes; transparency on why that was necessary (how much money would be required each month to stay viable); and the need for everyone involved to own the solutions. There were also some sobering examples of poor management and cost control, bringing charities to the brink of insolvency.

There was a lot of emphasis given to the need to be as prepared as possible – business plans, employment law and TUPE were mentioned as recurring themes.

Representatives of Unity Trust Bank (an ethical and social bank) and the WCVA funding programme talked through how and when to access the funding available to social enterprise and community groups for both the initial community asset transfer and following that, any capital investment that might be needed. The message to take away was that loan finance can actually help attract other grant funding as the bank welcomes being part of match funding with other funding partners. Applicants should not be afraid to consider a range of funding streams and be prepared to think outside the box. There is plenty of advice and help available, be brave they said!

Geldards talked delegates through the legal issues that can present when groups and individuals take up the challenge of pursuing an asset transfer. They helped navigate the potential steps from a germ of an idea through to a full incorporation as a charitable or social enterprise organisation, focusing on how the risk of personal liability for an asset can be managed.

Logos of organisations that contributed

Organisations that contributed to the conference

Reflections on the day

The event presented much needed access to information and professional advice, which can be provided by contacting the WCVA on their number: 0800 2888 329.

Whilst the work of the NAWG is focussed on the Welsh public sector, with the spotlight on community asset transfer, it was useful for us to discover the experiences of delegates, first hand. This will inevitably inform our work in this area and practically speaking, inform the development of our website and future guidance work. Engage with us at assetscymru@wales.gsi.gov.uk.

Is Data Protection a barrier to public service improvement?

At the recent Wellbeing seminar in Llanrwst and Cardiff, Data Sharing and Data Protection cropped up as a key issue for Welsh public services. Dyfrig Williams looks at why it was seen as such a barrier.

In the plenary session of the wellbeing, Anne Marie Cunningham, who is both a GP and also a Lecturer at Cardiff University, described the problems currently facing GPs who are looking to share data. You can watch the discussion at the start of the below video.

This isn’t the first time it’s been identified as a key issue. Data Protection was again a big topic of conversation at our Information Technology seminar, which subsequently led to a webinar on cloud computing where Evan Jones of the Welsh Government addressed people’s fears in order to debunk myths.

At the wellbeing seminar, the issue was slightly different as it was about public services sharing data rather than ownership by stealth by American companies. But the reticence to share data was none the less identified as a barrier to improving services.

Despite the barriers in place, there are organisations who have negotiated the issue and improved their services. It was fascinating hearing from Mark Shone of Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service at the Strengthening the Connections events. At 3:32 in the below video, Mark explains how the Fire and Rescue Service have put in place a Data Sharing agreement with the NHS in their area. His presentation shows how they have been able to identify people who are most at risk of home fires and undertake preventative work.

The Information Commissioner has shared good practice in their Data Sharing Code of Practice, which includes a section on Data Sharing Agreements. The forward of the document is striking because although it quite rightly focuses on citizens’ rights, it also clearly recognises that ‘People want their personal data to work for them. They expect organisations to share their personal data where it’s necessary to provide them with the services they want. They expect society to use its information resources to stop crime and fraud and to keep citizens safe and secure’.

Data Protection is certainly an issue that we will be looking to address as part of our events for 2015-16. If public services can effectively manage the process, it can help to give a platform for better collaborative working. Hopefully by looking at this in depth we can help to share the right information and practice so that we can get to grips with the issues that public services face.

#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.


The Wales Audit Office and Co-production

Re-shaping services with the Public

How does the Wales Audit Office’s work fit in with the co-production agenda in Wales? On Tuesday I attended Working With Not To’s Big North Wales Co-production meet up! to share what we’re doing.


When I started thinking about co-production and audit I immediately started thinking about public service performance. But after we ran a shared learning seminar with the Society of Welsh Treasurers last Friday, it struck me how our finance work is equally tied into co-production. Participation Cymru’s All Wales Network was also taking place down the road, and despite the different subject matters, the Wales Audit Office report on Meeting the Financial Challenges Facing Local Government in Wales linked them together as “ineffective stakeholder engagement means that some councils may not be adequately reflecting the needs, priorities and expectations of their citizens.”

So co-production can help save money by targeting it where it can be used most effectively. But at the event I also pointed out that genuine co-production still needs resources to be successful. We heard a lot at our Land and Asset Transfer Shared Learning Seminar about how assets that had been passed on to town and community councils weren’t viable without the right support.

Council 2025: A vision for local government in Wales

A couple of weeks ago the Auditor General for Wales spoke at the Welsh Local Government Association’s Annual Conference and examined re-organisation of local government. I recommend watching the video below if you haven’t already as he asks some searching questions – where is the debate in Wales about what local government should be about? Where are the models of delivery and enablement that will help us deliver the value and quality that Wales needs?

He also looks at co-production in Welsh local government:

I carried out as you may recall a study on public engagement in local government a couple of years back. That found few practical examples of collaborative forms of engagement. Since then, I’ve seen very little evidence of a shift towards co-production, or as it’s often described, working with and not to.

The Wales We Want

Co-production is also a theme in the mid-term report of the Future Generations Bill. The bill presents a big challenge to public services, including the Wales Audit Office. The only way that we can audit in a way that’s meaningful and proportionate is by working with councils to co-produce a solution. We’ve already started doing that by using feedback from the Future Generation Bill Shared Learning Seminar in the work that Mike Palmer is leading on, and there will be more chances for public services to let us know how audit can be effective.

So what is the Good Practice Exchange doing to help?

In order to help public service organisations to get to grips with this, we’re holding a free seminar on Re-shaping Services with the Public. We’re practicing what we preach about working in partnership, and the event will be run in collaboration with Welsh Government, Welsh Local Government Association, Wales Council for Voluntary Action, Wales Public Service 2025, 1000 Lives Improvement Service, Wales Co-operative Centre and Good Practice Wales.

Sketch notes for the Wales Audit Office and co-production presentation / Nodiadau Braslun ar gyfer cyflwyniad Cydgynhyrchu a Swyddfa Archwilio Cymru

Sketch notes for the Wales Audit Office and co-production presentation

The theme of the event has obviously struck a chord, as next week’s event in Cardiff is fully booked, but there are still some places available for September’s event in North Wales.

The emphasis of the seminar is going to be on sharing practical experiences of how different relationships can help re-shape public services to deliver better outcomes. We’ll be using the #ReshapeServices hashtag on the day if you’d like to follow it on Twitter, and we’d love to hear from you about what’s working in your area too.


Don’t buy hardware

Effective use of Information Technology

We all love it.  Hardware has flashing lights, cool lines, and looks really good in racks, humming away.  It impresses strangers; validates us as experts.   It’s also wildly expensive and fantastically underused.  Google (yes, that Google) discovered on the early 2000’s that their data centres were running at 10% of their potential maximum.  Much of the UK public sector is a lot worse with the Cabinet Office suggesting that some of us get as little as 5% utilisation of our most expensive assets.

Ask any IT Head why they spend gazillions on hardware and they’ll say “well, it won’t work without it”, or if the IT Head has an MBA he’ll say “the hardware is central to our mission”. Which raises an interesting question – why do we feel it necessary to buy the means of production for computing when we have no qualms at all about buying-in electricity, or water for that matter?

Back in September over 60 IT specialists, and me, met at WAO seminars in both North and South Wales to share good practice (viz, ‘nick ideas’) and, hopefully, have their preconceptions challenged. I like a good challenge to my preconceptions and the scepticism around Cloud Computing was not so much challenging my preconceptions as mugging them.

Cloud Computing / Cyfrifiadura Cwmwl

There were a lot of reasons why not to adopt Cloud. There’s security.  Everyone will have access to your data. There’s regulation, the Americans will arrest your Chief Executive……. and, well, there’s no flashing lights are there? None of this is necessarily true.  Of course you can mess up security on the cloud in the same way you can leave your own security in a hash if you try, but there’s no real reason why you should, particularly.

I like easy computing. I like to provide a service that just works.  I don’t want to run a datacentre any more than I want to run a power station or manage a reservoir. For me, Cloud Computing offers a chance to buy just as much as I want, when I want it. Period, as the Americans say.  No more capacity than I need.

This isn’t easy for us as a profession. We tend to think of IT as being an exercise in hardware management, rather than service to customers.

Here’s a thought exercise. Imagine your Chief Executive has banned the purchase of anything physical at all. Server provision is easy to purchase through the cloud (and really easy for the public sector through g-cloud), connectivity and firewalls – tick, software as a service – tick, end user devices? More problematic but a good BYOD strategy should see to that. In fact, if you’ve got decent mobile signal coverage (and you can even get around that) you don’t need the building network either.

Of course, little in life is simple, and that isn’t exactly simple either. But it’s worth considering, how much will it cost me if I don’t buy this upgrade but buy it as an on-line service?

It costs a lot to keep all of those servers warm, fed, stroked, and loved.  It might sound like heresy but could you do better, cheaper, with fewer commitments if you bought the service through the cloud?

Not that I’m mildly obsessed, or anything, but on 13 December I’ll be discussing cloud computing: the myths, busted, with Peter Middleton from the Cabinet Office’s g-cloud programme. 2013 has been a pivotal year for public service, a pivotal year in recognising that we cannot continue to deliver under the current model.  We need to be smarter, more collaborative, cheaper, simply better at what we do. Time to ditch some myths.

– Evan Jones, Welsh Government

“What are you really saying?” – Achieving effective overview and scrutiny through active listening

            CfPS logo         

The ability to freely question decision makers is a powerful expression of democracy. In many ways the act of questioning those in authority can be said to define and represent overview and scrutiny’s challenge role, especially when played out in the public arena.

For many overview and scrutiny committees, however, the aim of questioning is not just challenge for its own sake but as a means to drive improvement in public services and ensure decision making is accountable, inclusive and robust.

Despite a heavy emphasis on the use of questions in scrutiny, I’m not always convinced that sufficient attention is placed on the process of answering. After all, it is a question of give and take and it’s important to strike the right balance. As Mark Twain said, “If we were supposed to talk more than we listen, we would have two tongues and one ear.”

Whether in a formal accountability capacity or as part of task and finish group inquiry, for me the space between question and answer represents an important frontier zone in which relationships are cultivated and crafted. It’s a form of social exchange which if not managed sensitively can crystallise attitudes into ‘us versus them’. This can prove a real barrier to making best use of elected members’ community leadership role in shaping the future delivery of public services.

CfPS 2

Being called to account by scrutiny or giving evidence as a witness has the potential to generate a range of unsettling feelings for those under the spotlight. Since the ability to obtain and analyse evidence is fundamental in helping committees reach informed recommendations, it makes sense that it should be experienced by those contributing to it as rounded and objective. This is crucial to scrutiny’s credibility and effectiveness; people who feel they haven’t been given a ‘fair hearing’ are more likely to be dismissive and disengaged.

Earlier this year CfPS linked with the Samaritan’s workplace training team to explore how the organisation’s unique approach to listening can inform more reflective forms of communication which can ultimately lead to the development of more responsive local services.

The Samaritans offers a range of confidential services to people who are feeling suicidal or experiencing emotional distress. Listening volunteers talk to anyone who calls, emails or visits a Samaritans branch and are specially trained in the use of the ‘listening wheel’ in providing individuals with support.

CfPS 3    CfPS 4

Volunteers listen with focus, using techniques such as clarification, summary and careful use of open questions. The aim is to provide contacts with a safe, non-judgmental environment in which people can explore how they feel.

Active listening allows Samaritan volunteers to suspend their own frame of reference in processing information provided to them by contacts, helping them empathise and better see things from another’s point of view.

By supporting people with their feelings Samaritans are able to get through to the facts. The relatively simple process of talking and being really listened to alleviates distress and helps people reach a better understanding of their situation and the options open to them.

For more information about the Samaritans, please visit their website www.samaritans.org

The insight offered by the Samaritans’ communication methods provides a way to augment the support element of overview and scrutiny’s ‘critical friendship’ role. Active listening lets those practicing scrutiny develop a more accurate understanding of the speaker’s message, leading to the formation of more balanced and productive relationships.

The following five points demonstrate how listening with greater focus can be used to achieve more effective overview and scrutiny:

  1. Active listening demonstrates respect and shows that scrutiny practitioners genuinely want to understand people’s viewpoints even when different to their own.
  2.  It facilitates further disclosure by not judging who is speaking. Disclosure is important in achieving deeper understanding of issues of interest to scrutiny by acknowledging the complexity of real life situations.
  3. Active listening enables contributors to reflect back, allowing them to provide correction in the event practitioners have misunderstood information presented to them. It can be an important means to ensure accuracy and improve the robustness of evidence gathering.
  4. Being attentive helps practitioners stay focused on the conversation and to remember what they hear. It can help overcome situations where councillors are perceived as being more interested in ‘queuing to speak’ than in paying attention to what is being said. It can also avoid unhelpful duplication of questioning.
  5. Active listening can defuse conflict. Fully attending to a speaker can help create an atmosphere of co-operation from which can emerge innovative, co-produced solutions which are more likely to be implemented.

As overview and scrutiny in Wales develops in an environment of austerity, active listening provides a constructive means for it to make a more valuable contribution in the design and delivery of local services. By inviting, authorising and legitimising the public’s views and experiences within decision making, we can achieve better accountability through listening and ultimately improve outcomes for the people of Wales.

The team at CfPS are really looking forward to the joint conference on 28th November. We are delighted to be able to support the event as part of our Welsh Government funded programme and to contribute our collective experience in demonstrating the return on investment in overview and scrutiny.

Rebecca David-Knight, Wales Scrutiny Programme Manager, Centre for Public Scrutiny  

Lights, Camera, Action!

ScrutinyWell over 200 delegates from the Scrutiny Community in Wales will be attending the ‘Scrutiny in the Spotlight’ Conference on 28 November 2013 in Swalec Stadium, Cardiff.

Huw ReesThe conference is a collaborative effort between Wales Audit Office, Centre for Public Scrutiny, WLGA, Welsh Government and Cardiff Business School. It makes complete sense for all partners involved in Scrutiny improvement work in Wales to join forces in putting on this highly anticipated event.  We, and those delegates attending, all share a common purpose and so this is a unique opportunity for us to come together to benefit from our collective knowledge and experience and to engage in the sharing and learning of ideas and solutions to improve Scrutiny in Wales.

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We all recognise that we are facing very challenging times and are facing some very tough decisions that will need to be taken with courage and rigour in equal measure. Scrutiny has a vital role in contributing to this rigour and so we must ensure that it is fit for purpose and equipped for the challenge. This conference will provide the opportunity to hear from contributors and delegates about how they are meeting this challenge, and to ‘cherry pick’ aspects that will help us improve our own organisations. It’s about recognising what could work for your own organisation and adapting not simply adopting practice.

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There are options for each delegate to attend two of the six workshops on offer, and so organisations should be able to cover all six workshops with a few colleagues.  The workshops were designed to pick up on the key themes emerging from the ‘Good Scrutiny – Good Question’ Wales Audit Office national study. All workshops are designed to be highly interactive as we recognise that creating the opportunity for delegates to share and learn from each other is equally important to hearing from our expert contributors.

I hope you take away lots of interesting ideas of how your organisation can improve its Scrutiny function,  but more than anything, that you seize the opportunity now that the Spotlight on Scrutiny is shining very brightly.


Social Scrutiny


What, you may ask, is Huw Lloyd Jones thinking about in writing a blog that focuses mainly on the use of social media? Surely someone who is beginning to catch glimpses of the paradise of retirement through the mist must have something better to do with his time?

You may be right! I’ve been a Linked-In user for a while but I confess that, until recently, I’ve used it as an older person’s equivalent of an autograph book. My attempts to open a Facebook account were met, within seconds, by an avalanche of horrified texts between my grown-up children (though not addressed to me), followed soon after by an unequivocal Facebook Ban from my wife. ‘You’ll get yourself into trouble’, she said.

Huw Lloyd-Jones

So, when the Wales Audit Office decided to encourage its staff to use social media, I thought to myself, ‘Leave it to the youngsters’ (and the trendy-but-not-so-young)! When I saw that a session at a staff training day was devoted to Twitter, I was sceptical. But I duly turned up, listened and asked a few questions. What impressed me most, perhaps, was that, in practising our rudimentary skills, we got an instant (and witty) response from an only-just-ex Welsh Government Minister! I guess that this alerted me straight away to the influential power of social media!

To cut a long story short, as an open-minded (aka gullible) trainee, I signed up to Twitter. In doing so, I managed to delete everything on my Blackberry, but I got there in the end! I have no interest in what celebrities had for breakfast so I decided to focus mainly on following:

  • the six councils I work with; and
  • education stuff.

So what have I learned as a result of my ‘experiment’? First of all, a couple of generalities for anyone else who’s thinking about opening a Twitter account:

  • Even if you only follow a small number of other Twitter users, you could spend all day every day looking at what comes in. Get yourself something like Hootsuite that allows you to sort your incoming Tweets into different categories. It’s not like email – you can afford to miss lots of ‘messages’ because, if they’re important, someone will Retweet them.
  • You don’t need to send lots of Tweets. I’ve made some horrendous gaffes (particular apologies to @Snowded and @whatsthepont as well as anyone else I may have offended). Think carefully about how your not-so-carefully constructed 140 characters will appear to others before you light the blue touch paper and send the Tweet!

What about ‘my’ six councils? It was quite an eye-opener in terms of the differences between them in the way that they’re using Twitter. As an auditor, you’d expect me to introduce some data somewhere, so here are the ‘basic’ Twitter statistics for the six councils at the time of writing:





























So what? I guess that the number of tweets reflects, to some extent, the length of time that the council has been using Twitter. Also, tweeting in both languages adds to the count (and engages more people, too). It’s interesting that the number of followers seems to match quite closely the number of tweets!

What caught my attention, though, was the number of other Twitter users that each council follows. Following lots of people and organisations means that you receive hundreds of tweets every day – time consuming, and possibly of little benefit! On the other hand, if you follow very few others, the only tweets you receive are those directed specifically to you. You miss out on what your partners are up to and on what the media and influential individuals and groups within the community have to say.

The variation in the type of information that councils tweet has also been fascinating. Some tend to tweet information about vacancies and things like unexpected school closures. Others use Twitter to proclaim good news stories and to advertise events that they are running, usually via links to the council’s website. Those that follow their partners often retweet information about their work. In my area, for example, the police make great use of Twitter and those councils that follow the police can significantly increase the audience for police tweets by passing on the message, as well as reinforcing the fact that the council and the police are working together closely.

Just one council so far has used Twitter to advertise an ongoing consultation – just think how many more people now know that the consultation is ‘live’ compared with the numbers that might have stumbled upon the information via the website! And another council has begun to hold ‘Twitter surgeries’ where Cabinet members respond to tweets from members of the public about their areas of responsibility. There hasn’t been a great response thus far, but what a great idea in terms of engaging with the public in a forum that’s open to anyone who’s interested!

Tweeting information about forthcoming committee meetings happens only rarely and inconsistently. Our recent work on scrutiny across Wales has identified that most councils feel that they could engage more effectively with the public in the way in which they hold decision-makers to account. Why not, therefore, take the opportunity to tell all those followers about meetings that will focus on important issues? Even better, why not use Twitter beforehand to allow people to express their views and to gauge public opinion? The potential is huge!

So, to quote an oft-used phrase, What’s the PONT?

  • You’re never too old to use social media, but think before you Tweet!
  • Councils vary hugely in the extent of their Twitter engagement and the nature of what they tweet.
  • The potential of social media such as Twitter to engage with the public is huge.
  • Councils’ scrutiny functions, in particular, could make much more use of social media to engage with the public and to reflect their views when holding decision-makers to account.