Some key findings from the Commission on Public Service Governance and Delivery in Wales lead us to reflect on where we are with public services in Wales. Whilst there is a lot of evidence of good practice emerging, the commission highlights difficulties in a number of areas.
In the broad field of governance, delivery and scrutiny, the following issues have been identified:
• Accountability and governance frameworks are complex and inconsistent
• The quality of scrutiny is variable and scrutiny models vary across organisations. Some cross cutting scrutiny can help to overcome some ‘silo’ working
• There is a need for greater service user/citizen involvement in scrutiny
• Alternative delivery models should be considered with co-production, cooperatives and mutuals being raised as options for future service delivery
• Best Practice is not consistently applied, shared, identified and evaluated.
Wales is a small country and the need to get the governance and delivery right is imperative. Improving governance involves the key issues of accountability and responsibility and also having a system in place which can scrutinize and review. Those with responsibility for delivering public services are accountable to a range of stakeholders for this. For this to operate effectively, there needs to be sanctions, checks and appropriate monitoring frameworks.
The issues above highlight the existence of too much complexity. Having multiple organizations involved in delivery shares responsibility and unless the governance arrangements have been worked out effectively, accountability is unclear. This becomes problematic when things go wrong.
Also, the findings above highlight the need to sharpen scrutiny skills in Wales. This is where the challenge is supposed to exist and it can come from opposition politicians in local councils, board members in health and in housing and also individuals on school governing bodies, for example. Improving the skills set of all those involved in governance and scrutiny is imperative.
The commission will at some point issue a final report and there will be a response to this. It seems likely that some in public service Wales will argue for changes in structures to bigger organizations, the arguments about the value of ‘market’ will get aired and there will be a review of the co-operative/mutual based approaches to service delivery amongst other issues.
As we approach change, it is worth remembering the importance of both responsibility and accountability. Effective governance and delivery arrangements matter a great deal more to those receiving public services than the structures behind them.
Professor Catherine Farrell.