Scrutiny Dispatches – March 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.

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Here’s this months roundup:

1. The importance of self-evaluation (Lead: Councillor Mike Day)

The model of scrutiny that we have recently adopted in Swansea has been attracting interest from the Welsh Government Minister for Local Government and other councils in Wales. Nevertheless, scrutiny must always strive to improve itself particularly if it wishes to influence others internally and externally to do the same. Evaluating the operation and effectiveness of scrutiny – learning from experience, gathering feedback, and recognising what works and what needs to be addressed – is essential. A number of councillors involved in the process recently took part in a workshop designed to do just that. The Scrutiny Programme Committee got together with those councillors who have acted as conveners over the last year to reflect on the year so far.

The workshop, held on 27 January, provided an opportunity to:

  • review the way the Scrutiny Programme Committee has worked since its formation in October 2012
  • consider progress with scrutiny activities and any issues relating to scrutiny practice and experience (including approaches to questioning)
  • generate ideas that would help to improve the way we work

A self-evaluation group exercise was used to help councillors reflect and measure where we are against a range of accepted criteria for good scrutiny. As well as many positive reflections about current practice a number of issues were raised, which are currently being turned into an action plan. Some of these relate to:

  • Scrutiny work programme – e.g. tailoring approaches for specific issues, ensuring capacity to deal with important issues arising, managing workloads
  • Preparing for meetings – e.g. a consistent approach to developing questioning strategies, holding pre-meetings, training on questioning skills / techniques
  • Outcomes from scrutiny – e.g. holding post-meetings / debriefings to enable reflection on effectiveness of meetings and clarity of views about information / evidence gathered
  • Following up scrutiny recommendations – e.g. timely follow up and clarity about process, highlighting the impact / results of scrutiny to evidence difference made that can be shared widely
  • Public engagement – e.g. having a clear plan, raising awareness through range of methods, promoting the impact

2. What does the Williams Commission say about scrutiny?

Although the headlines from the Williams Commission were about possible local government reorganisation the report, published on 20 January, says much about the role of scrutiny in holding organisations to account, improving services and engaging citizens and makes a number of recommendations.

Key messages for government include:

  • The importance, status and value of scrutiny must be recognised, prioritised, continually sustained and reinforced
  • Organisations must regard scrutiny as an investment to deliver improvements and future savings
  • Scrutiny must engage more effectively with the public and partners

3. Evidence gathering underway

Scrutiny has five in-depth Inquiry Panels currently underway and each is busy gathering evidence. These inquiries are looking at:

  • Inward Investment (lead councillor: Jeff Jones)
  • Public Engagement (lead councillor: Cllr Joe Hale)
  • Streetscene (lead councillor: Cllr John Bayliss)
  • Social Care at Home (lead councillor: Cllr Jane Harris)
  • Education Inclusion (lead councillor: Cllr Cheryl Philpott)

In-depth inquires are expected to be completed within six months and will result in a final report being published by each Panel with conclusions and recommendations, informed by the evidence gathered, that will be presented to cabinet for decision.

4. Scrutiny recommendations on tourism accepted by cabinet (Lead: Councillor John Newbury)

Cabinet formally responded to the Tourism Scrutiny Inquiry report on 14 January. The inquiry considered whether we are making the most of Swansea’s potential as a destination for tourists, including maximising the economic benefits for Swansea. Cabinet has agreed all the recommendations and provided an action plan. 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.

5. More scrutiny please! (Lead: Councillor Paxton Hood-Williams)

Carrying out the important role of monitoring performance of both Adult and Child & Family Social Services the Wellbeing Scrutiny Performance Panel has stepped up its activity and is now meeting on a fortnightly basis to carry out its work. This will ensure that each Panel meeting has a focus and will give councillors the ability to explore performance of these areas in some depth. Just like the other Performance Panels, the Panel expresses its view on service delivery and performance through letters to cabinet member(s). This Panel is in regular correspondence with Cllr Mark Child, Cabinet Member for Wellbeing, who is required to respond to comments and recommendations from the Panel.

6. Do you have a topic for scrutiny? (Lead: Councillor Mike Day)

The Scrutiny Annual Work Planning Conference will be taking place in May 2014. Ahead of that all Councillors are encouraged to contribute ideas about future topics. So, if there is an issue of concern about any public service where scrutiny could make a difference these should be passed on to the chair of the Scrutiny Programme Committee or Scrutiny Support Team. Any suggestions made will then be considered and prioritised to ensure the future scrutiny work programme is effective and focussed on the right things. Councillors can also feed in ideas about future topics for scrutiny by completing the Scrutiny Annual Stakeholder Survey that will be out in March. The Scrutiny Work Programme will be also be informed by views from staff, public and partners.

Picture: http://flic.kr/p/e4Bdjc

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