Changes needed to public service boards if they’re to realise their full potential

8 Oct 2019 - 12:00am

PSBs need to start thinking and acting differently, and to be given the freedom to work more flexibly, says Auditor General

The 19 new Public Service Boards – which were set up in Wales to improve the well-being of communities - are unlikely to realise their potential unless changes are introduced. A report, published today (8 October 2019) by the Auditor General for Wales, calls on them to work more flexibly and to think and act differently.  

The Welsh Government established Public Service Boards (PSBs) under the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. The members of each PSB are the local public bodies and some voluntary groups from the geographical area that they cover. They’re required to assess the state of economic, social, environmental and cultural well-being in the areas they cover and to set objectives to maximise their own contributions to national well-being goals.

But today’s report highlights a number of issues with the way PSBs are currently operating. Public bodies haven’t always taken the opportunity to effectively organise and resource the work of PSBs. PSBs are not consistently being scrutinised or held to account. And, despite public bodies valuing PSBs, there’s no agreement on how their role should evolve. A lack of dedicated funding is seen as limiting the potential of PSBs to make a positive and lasting impact on Welsh communities.

While PSBs generally have the right membership, some key partners are not actively involved. Public bodies working across regions find it challenging to participate in numerous Boards and there remains overlap between the PSBs and the work and membership of other partnerships, in particular the 7 Regional Partnership Boards – which were set up in April 2016 to drive the strategic regional delivery of social services in close collaboration with health.

A role of the Future Generations Commissioner is to provide advice to public bodies and to Public Service Boards, however this advice is not always valued or acted upon.

Today’s report makes a number of recommendations for improvement, including:

  • Welsh Government should enable PSBs to develop flexible models of working, including merging, reducing and integrating their work with other forums, such as Regional Partnership Boards and giving them flexibility to receive, manage and spend grant monies.
  • Improving transparency and accountability by making PSB meetings, agendas, papers and minutes accessible and available to the public.
  • PSBs and public bodies should use the findings of an earlier Auditor General discussion paper on effective scrutiny to strengthen oversight arrangements and activity.

Auditor General, Adrian Crompton said today:

“Public Service Boards have the potential to enable the effective collaboration that is absolutely crucial if Wales is to flourish in difficult times. But the way they’re currently operating is hampering their ability to improve the well-being of their communities. My report highlights some tangible actions that should be taken, by the Welsh Government and the Boards themselves, to help PSBs realise their full potential.”

Ends

Notes to Editors:

  • This report examines how PSBs are operating; looking at their membership; terms of reference; frequency and focus of meetings; alignment with other partnerships; resources and scrutiny arrangements.
  • This is a phase one review on partnership working which will be followed up by a further report in 2020.
  • The members of the 19 PSBs are the local council, the Local Health Board, the Fire and Rescue Authority and Natural Resources Wales, Welsh Ministers, Chief Constables, the Police and Crime Commissioner, certain Probation Services, voluntary groups and others. There is one PSB for each local authority except for a Cwm Taf PSB which covers Merthyr Tydfil and Rhondda Cynon Taf, a combined PSB for Gwynedd and Isle of Anglesey and a joint PSB for Conwy and Denbighshire.
  • 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