Reflecting on some key findings from the Public Service Governance and Delivery Commission in Wales:

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.

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School Governance in Wales

 School governing is tied up with how education is delivered and where the center of power lies. Devolution has changed a great deal. Wales has not seen the rise of the academy schools as is the case in England.


At the present time, Wales is at a cross roads in education delivery and policy with a number of areas up for review. 


The issue which has hit the media concerns the qualification system – will Wales retain the existing A level, AS level and GCSEs as qualifications for young people in education?  The Education Minister in Wales* has clearly expressed his preferences here and he is at one with the Minister in N. Ireland. There will be an issue about what England decides to do. How far would we want devolution to go? Recognising that Scotland already has its own system, how would different qualifications operate across the UK?


In addition to the qualifications discussions, Wales has been working seriously on other aspects of education which go right to the core of the system. The publication of the international PISA results a few years ago left Wales with questions about why its pupils were underachieving and Ministerial efforts have been focused on securing improvements here. It could be argued that this lower achievement record has been the driver for the current review of education, undertaken by Robert Hill. The Hill review has focused on a number of areas of education delivery and how education is organised and will have implications for the governance of schools. The improvement of school governing skills will be important in building effective change.


As the options for change get considered in the coming months, existing school governing arrangements will be reviewed.  The vast majority of schools in Wales are governed on the basis of the stakeholder model with representatives on the board from the key stakeholding groups. There is a great deal of evidence that this approach works better in some schools than in others.  


What then are the alternative models of governance?


Options for consideration will include the skills model of governance where governors are selected for their skills and expertise and perhaps also their networks and connections. Without wishing to through the ‘baby out with the bathwater’, there is perhaps a model of governance which has elements of both the stakeholder and skills approaches built in. In this, there would be a skills based governing body which could be responsible for governance across a number of schools with key representatives on there from the schools themselves. This option integrates representation (stakeholders) and skills for the governance of schools. A shift to a model of governance based completely on skills is a third option.


As Wales considers these approaches, it is within the context of a need to improve standards and achievement for young people in education.  The Inspectorate, Estyn, is building in more of the effective governance of schools into successful inspections and parents are also becoming more demanding in terms of their expectations of schools.


It is imperative that education in Wales takes the right road at the crossroads. 






* On Tuesday 25th June 2013, the Minister for Education who had led on this reform agenda, Leighton Andrews, resigned as Minister and giving up his cabinet seat. The background to this was apparently a decision on his behalf to support the parents of a school which was threatened with closure from their local authority as it had surplus places. Mr Andrews compromised his Ministerial position as the removal of spare capacity in schools had been one of his own policies.




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Public Services in the Twitter Age

Public Services in the Age of Social Media

As an active ‘tweeter’, I have become increasingly aware of how many people are using Twitter to express their views on the services they have just received. So, poor service in the restaurant results in a tweet and the name of the restaurant is attached ‘@’ so that it is automatically alerted to the publicity. This is fast and not only is the response immediate, it is also very public. Everyone on a ‘Twitter feed’ can see the ‘tweet’ and those who aren’t can have the message ‘Retweeted’ by someone else. The result is that the customer is giving immediate feedback to the producer of the service and it is their view on it. No external verification is required.

Transfer the simple idea to public services, and we can see that when we have had our medical consultation or been to the library, or have experience of the school, for example, we can tweet afterwards and comment on the service. Our positive and negative experiences can be publicised. The names of the clinic, the library and the school can be quoted in the tweet. Taking this a stage further, the name of the consultant, the librarian and the headteacher/teacher can also be made public.

These are very different times.

There are key issues here about ethics, consumer power, the use of the data, professionalism, quality of service and above all, about accountability.

Questions that come to mind include:

• Will this impact on positively on quality? Will the consultant who is attached to a negative tweet seek to improve his/her delivery?

• Will the feedback impact on individual performance appraisal?

The speed of change in the use of social media is fast. Public services will need to become even more aware of the technology and see to keep up!

The identity of the public servant, which until now has been within the service, will become more public.

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Thatcher and Changing Public Services in Wales

Many of us will be familiar with the Thatcher reforms in public services during the 1980s and 1990s. A number of people we will all know would like to forget some of these changes! Whatever your view of these reforms, one issue is clear – public services changed. 

Privatisation, market exposure, performance information, consumer choice were all central in the 18 years of Conservative rule. The UK shifted from a model of public services driven by the state and professionals to one which had consumers at the centre (or so the policy rhetoric told us). 

New Labour continued many of these reforms. Now, with the death of Thatcher, we are left to reflect on the impact of thirty years of change in public services in Wales.

There are contrasting views on this issue. At one end,  is the opinion that Thatcher was good for Wales. Entrepreneurship, new home and share owners are part of the positive story. At the other end of the spectrum is the view that she closed the coal mines, took on the trade unions, and her policies led to high unemployment.

Whatever your view here, one issue is clear. Some of our communities are not doing well. There are areas in Wales in which only a  few people are employed. There is a high reliance on state support in a variety of forms. Life experiences are not as good as they could be despite all the efforts of many public and third sector organisations. The chances of dying younger are higher in some communities than in others. The geographical map shows that those in the poorest communities can have the worst access to public services.

It is tempting to focus on the welfare reforms which have recently been introduced and argue that they will make the situation worse. However, the challenge as always is to improve our public services so that they are delivered seamlessly to those in the greatest need. Lets focus on where we are now and make sure public services ‘join-up’ on the ground as well as in the boardroom. There is an even greater need for ‘collaborative’ public services to deliver properly to people who need them. Finding solutions to the ‘hard to resolve’ policy issues must be at the central to our activity.

 With devolution, Wales has the opportunity to deliver the best.


Let’s make it work.




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The work of Public Boards – membership and what they do

One of the stories in the Welsh media this week relates to the inclusion of females on public boards. A key issue here is that boards are dominated by male members and by widening participation to include more females, the boards will better reflect society in general. Clearly, there is also a need to include other aspects in the consideration of board members such as ethnicity and disabilities, for example.

Use of a quota system has been mentioned in the drive to get more female board members, as has giving them greater encouragement in the application process. Widening the ‘advertising’ space and locations for the vacancy notices are also deemed to be important here.

The membership of public boards is indeed an important issue and getting this right is the first stage in improving boards. Beyond their membership, there is clearly a need to focus on what the role of the public board is. Why do we have them and what do they do?

Public boards are there to lead public organizations like the NHS, housing associations, sporting organizations and many charities, for example. There are also public boards which sit within the school system (governing bodies). It is the task of the board to lead, to develop policy and to effectively challenge managers within the organization. Scrutinizing the delivery of the service within their area is an important element of the activity of boards.

Getting board members to challenge and scrutinize is the subject of many courses and conferences. Some boards undertake these activities effectively and others are continuing to work towards this. Effective challenge involves understanding their role, analyzing data, asking searching questions and so on. Having positive constructive relationships between the board and management is important in good governing on the board.

Widening the membership of boards to include more females may impact positively on the challenge and scrutiny role of boards. This is about better governance and this should ultimately should lead to improved services. This is something which is in all our interests.


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“Flipping Academics”

When I read the piece in the Guardian on Tuesday 11th December 2012 titled “A New Flipside to Academics”, I was immediately attracted to the piece!! What was this about and what was behind the use of this ‘casual’ language?


The notion of the “flipping academic” comes  from Alex Bruton who is an Associate Prof in Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Mount Royal University in Canada. The idea is simple – that the academic informs first and publishes second. This way, it is thought that academics can engage with policy and practice, improve it and then write up the results.


What an excellent path to follow.


In Universities, academics teach, they publish and in their work, they can be close to those working in the practice in their fields. Good academics are informed by the latest thinking and research published in academic and professional journals and also by feedback from practice. They are also the ones publishing their findings from their own work. In funding terms, however, it is only the highest quality publications that receive funding for Universities and, as a result, academics spend much effort aiming high. Usually, but not always, the highest quality publications are the least read by those in practice.


And so, to the “flipping academic”. Writing up our research papers after the practice is an attractive option. This way, practitioners get feedback from academics and hopefully improve delivery and also academics can report on research in practice.


Making our mark in these ways will ensure that academics keep ahead in their fields. The idea of the “flipping academic” is an attractive one and is not far removed from the mission of this Public Policy centre – the engagement of academics and those in the policy community in improving the practice of public policy.


No more time at this point…need to get on with being a “flipping academic”!!


More in the New Year.



Professor Catherine Farrell.

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Elections, Elections and More Elections

This week is a first in UK politics – the first time we will see the election system being used in areas outside the local, national and European governments.

We will go to the ballot box on Thursday 15th November 2013 and this time, it is for the election of the UK Police and Crime Commissioners. The commissioners will work closely with the 41 UK Chief Constables to direct and decide strategic issues relating to policing in their areas.

Who are those seeking to be elected as police and crime commissioners? Across the UK, many of those seeking election are retired politicians from the leading parties and a number have political party associations. It is only a minority who are ‘community’ or ‘independent’ individuals who have not been involved in politics before.

UK residents have had their ballot papers, some publicity has been distributed by the hopeful commissioners and it seems that ‘let the election begin’.

Before Thursday, let us reflect on a number of key issues:

1. Do we need police commissioners? What is the nature of the evidence that we do? What will happen if the commissioner pushes forward on issues that matter to the community and this conflicts with professional advice? The classic capital punishment issue springs to mind.

2. What about accountability? Will this be enhanced with the election of the commissioner? One would certainly expect that the commissioner would be more visible for the community than the police authority system it replaces (the sheer matter of turning up to vote might create this, thus enhancing public accountability, but what about other types of accountability including professional and market forms? What about the commissioner who drives strategic issues on the basis of electoral popularity? We might see a greater focus of policing on our streets and visibility overall but what about the ‘back office’ and national strategies? Can one police force really go off in the pursuit of electoral popularity?

3. What about devolved public services in Wales and Scotland and the new commissioners? Policing is not a devolved matter – however, the commissioners in the devolved areas will relate extensively to the elected bodies there. Will this put pressure on the extension of devolution?

4. Finally, where will it all end? Police today, fire, social services, education and other public services tomorrow. Where will it all end? Commissioners in all public services? How many elections will this involve? Will the different commissioners work together? What would this do for collaborative public services?

When we turn out to vote on Thursday, if indeed we do, think about the significance of this as a first and keep an eye on what happens next…

Professor Catherine Farrell

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