Six steps to better scrutiny in Wales

12 Feb 2019 - 12:00am

A discussion paper and checklist has been launched to help improve the way decision-makers are held to account

A discussion paper and six-point checklist has been produced for councils in Wales to help improve overview and scrutiny functions. Today’s publication brings together some common themes and issues that have been identified during audit work across the 22 local authorities during 2017-18.

The discussion paper highlights six key areas that many councils could reflect on in light of current and future challenges.

  • In some councils there remains some fundamental confusion and misunderstanding around roles and responsibilities in practice.
  • Many councils still say they need to improve the way they engage with the public.
  • Improvements are needed to the way councils prioritise and then plan their scrutiny activity to improve its impact.
  • Some councils may need to consider reviewing support and training for scrutiny committee members.
  • Most councils do not routinely evaluate the effectiveness of their scrutiny functions.
  • Welsh Government and Councils need to consider how these themes impact on local governance arrangements role.

In response to these issues, and to support councils to improve, six steps have been identified to help make scrutiny ‘fit for the future.’ It’s designed to be a checklist for councillors:

  1. Know your role
  2. Know your powers and what’s ‘possible’ in scrutiny
  3. Know what you are trying to achieve
  4. Plan your scrutiny work to achieve your aims
  5. Design support arrangements to achieve your aims
  6. Regularly evaluate the effectiveness of scrutiny activity and make changes based on feedback

Auditor General, Adrian Crompton said:

“Scrutiny in local government is a vital part of democratic accountability and the public have a right to be assured that decision-makers are being held to account in a proper and effective way. But there are some common themes that my auditors have identified across Wales that councils could reflect on to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of their scrutiny functions. I hope this discussion paper and checklist acts as a helpful guide for councils and councillors as they look to improve their approach.”

Ends

Notes to Editors:

  • This checklist and discussion paper has been produced following audit work across the 22 principal councils in Wales during 2017-18.
  • During our audit work, we considered how councils are responding to current challenges, including the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act 2015 in relation to their scrutiny activity, as well as how councils are beginning to undertake scrutiny of Public Service Boards. We also examined how well-placed councils are to respond to future challenges such as continued pressure on public finances and the possible move towards more regional working between local authorities.
  • We issued separate reports with proposals for improvement to each of the 22 principal councils.
  • The Auditor General is the independent statutory external auditor of the devolved Welsh public sector. He is responsible for the annual audit of the majority of the public money spent in Wales, including the £15 billion of funds that are voted on annually by the National Assembly. Elements of this funding are passed by the Welsh Government to the NHS in Wales (over £7 billion) and to local government (over £4 billion).
  • The audit independence of the Auditor General is of paramount importance. He is appointed by the Queen, and his audit work is not subject to direction or control by the National Assembly or government. 
  • The Wales Audit Office (WAO) is a corporate body consisting of a nine member statutory Board which employs staff and provides other resources to the Auditor General, who is also the Board’s Chief Executive and Accounting Officer. The Board monitors and advises the Auditor General, regarding the exercise of his functions.