Scrutiny Dispatches – January 2014

Every month council receives an update from scrutiny about the work it has been doing. It aims to provide the headlines, typically with one major story each time, to raise awareness and visibility of the work and impact of scrutiny.


Here’s this months roundup:

1. Scrutiny in the spotlight: investing to maximise its impact (Lead: Councillor Mike Day)

Some important messages about the future of scrutiny were delivered at a national conference held on 28 November in Cardiff. Over 250 councillors and officers across Wales (including Councillors Mike Day, Paxton Hood-Williams, and Christine Richards) came together to talk about the role of scrutiny, share experiences and learning.

Conference speakers, including Lesley Griffiths AM, Minister for Local Government & Government Business, and the Auditor General for Wales, shared insights into what the scrutiny function will need to look like if it is to meet the future demands of a dramatically changing public sector environment and how scrutiny must adapt, evolve and reinvent itself to meet the significant challenges.

Key messages from the conference included:

  • Strong democracy runs through everything from improving services to good governance. Scrutiny is the heart and soul of this
  • Scrutiny is the classic invest to save service – in light of financial challenges, it is right to invest time and resource in scrutiny as an activity which adds value.
  • The ‘cold wind of recession’ means effective scrutiny of public spending is more important than ever
  • Scrutiny and accountability should be part of the design of collaborative working
  • Failure to install effective scrutiny processes, at all levels, will result in dramatic loss of public confidence.
  • Effective self-evaluation and scrutiny will lead to lighter-touch regulation
  • With the challenges public services and communities are facing, average or inconsistent scrutiny will not be enough: colleagues must challenge poor practice, be self-critical and learn from others’ experience of what works
  • A report on the Wales Audit Office Scrutiny Improvement study which all Welsh authorities were involved in over the last year will be published shortly.

The event was organised by the Welsh Government, Wales Audit Office, WLGA, the Centre for Public Scrutiny and Cardiff Business School.

2. Scrutiny recommendations on affordable housing considered by cabinet (Lead: Councillor Terry Hennegan)

Cabinet formally responded to the Affordable Housing Scrutiny Inquiry report on 3 December. The inquiry had considered how the Council and its partners could increase the overall supply of affordable housing in the City & County of Swansea. Cabinet agreed 9 of the 13 recommendations (2 were partially agreed) and provided an action plan. This means progress on a number of issues highlighted, including: raising the profile of affordable housing within the Single Integrated Plan, and working with partners to increase the supply of public land available for affordable housing. The Inquiry Panel will monitor the action plan over the next year and report back to the Scrutiny Programme Committee its view about progress and implementation of recommendations.

3. How is scrutiny providing challenge to schools? (Lead: Councillor Jennifer Raynor)

Established in April the Schools Performance Scrutiny Panel has developed a work plan for the year and is focused on providing ongoing challenge to schools on improving standards and pupil attainment. Since the last update in July, the Panel have spoken to the system leaders, headteachers and chairs of governors (or equivalent) for both the Key Stage 4 Education Centre and Portmead Primary School.  The Panel also made a visit to all three pupil referral unit establishments to consider their physical suitability for purpose. Panel members have also been developing their knowledge about how the authority assesses and determines support for schools to help them improve their performance.

In December the Panel will review the authority’s assessments of all schools’ performance and relevant performance data, including attainment and school attendance. The Panel will be keeping a watching brief on individual school Estyn inspection outcomes to help plan its future work. In the New Year the Panel will speak to a further two schools and will then evaluate their work over the year in April in order to assess and improve their effectiveness as a Panel.

4. What difference is Swansea Local Service Board making for citizens? (Lead: Councillor Clive Lloyd)

It has been agreed to establish a new multi-agency Scrutiny Performance Panel to explore this very question. Scrutiny councillors and non-executive representatives from partner agencies will come together to look at the activities and performance of the Local Service Board as a partnership, for example by examining:

  • How well the One Swansea Plan has been developed and reviewed?
  • How effectively the One Swansea Plan has been delivered?
  • How much added value the Local Service Board has delivered?

This approach has been endorsed by the Local Service Board and the recruitment of Panel members will now commence with the first meeting being held in the New Year, operating initially in a learning and development mode to lay the foundations for effective scrutiny.

5. Looking for a report? (Lead: Councillor Mike Day)

The work of scrutiny is published in two ways: in stand alone in-depth reports and through the Council’s minutes of meetings. All of our inquiry reports can be found in our ‘Scrutiny Reports Library’ within the scrutiny website. You can browse through all inquiry / review reports carried out by scrutiny councillors since 2006. For some in-depth pieces of work findings reports are also available. These provide a summary of all of the evidence that was provided to a particular review or inquiry. Our annual reports are also available here. Other reports, including the ‘Chairs Letters’ written by scrutiny to Cabinet Members, can be found within the agenda packs for the Scrutiny Programme Committee.


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