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Watchdog in Wales calls for clarification of scrutiny roles of members and officers

The role of executive members and senior officers in contributing to scrutiny in Welsh councils should be clarified, a report by the Wales Audit Office has urged.

The Good Scrutiny? Good Question! report, which can be viewed here, also recommended that:

  • Councils and others should ensure that scrutiny members, and specifically scrutiny chairs, receive training and support “to fully equip them with the skills required to undertake effective scrutiny”.
  • There should be further development of scrutiny forward work programming to: provide a clear rationale for topic selection; be more outcome focussed; ensure that the method of scrutiny is best suited to the topic area and the outcome desired; and align scrutiny programmes with the council’s performance management, self-evaluation and improvement arrangements.
  • Councils and others should ensure that scrutiny draws effectively on the work of audit, inspection and regulation and that its activities are complementary with the work of external review bodies.
  • The WAO and others should ensure that external review bodies take account of scrutiny work programmes and the outputs of scrutiny activity, where appropriate, in planning and delivering their work.
  • Councils, the Welsh LGA and the Welsh Government should ensure that the impact of scrutiny is properly evaluated and acted upon to improve the function’s effectiveness; including following up on proposed actions and examining outcomes.
  • Councils should undertake regular self-evaluation of scrutiny utilising the ‘outcomes and characteristics of effective local government overview and scrutiny’ developed by the Wales Scrutiny Officers’ Network.
  • Councils should implement scrutiny improvement action plans developed from the Wales Audit Office improvement study.
  • Councils should adopt Participation Cymru’s 10 Principles for Public Engagement in improving the way scrutiny engages with the public and stakeholders.

The WAO report found that local government scrutiny in Wales was improving but argued that councils needed to be more consistent in their approach if they were to add value on behalf of the taxpayer.

Authorities also struggled to show the impact of scrutiny, the audit watchdog said. The outcomes of this work were not always clear, despite councils’ significant investment of time and resources in the process.

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The WAO added that the importance of effective scrutiny should not be underestimated, “particularly when tough decisions need to be taken.

Auditor General for Wales, Huw Vaughan Thomas said: “This study shows that while there are pockets of good scrutiny there is a lack of consistency. With public services facing great financial challenge, there has never been a more important time for councils to develop effective and robust scrutiny.

“Decisions need to be consistent, transparent and rigorous and greater recognition of the value of scrutiny is vital if councils are to see real benefits in securing value for money for the taxpayer.”

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