Outreach Manager Kevin Davies explains…
On 12 February 2015 staff and councillors from Swansea Council’s Scrutiny Committee came to the Assembly to discuss how we at the National Assembly for Wales encourage more people to get involved in scrutiny.
I’ve just finished writing the first draft of this blog, which I wanted to keep as short and as concise as possible. I’ve failed miserably, so I’ve decided to publish it as a 3 part series instead. In part one (this one) I’ll set the scene, talk about some of the challenges, and show you what we talked about with the crew from Swansea Council.
Setting the scene
The remit of the National Assembly’s committees are very similar to those of local council’s scrutiny committees, to:
- look at different issues and subjects that the Welsh Government is responsible for, and at the end of the process … make recommendations to the Welsh Government to put into action.
Here’s footage of one of the Health and Social Care Committee’s meetings for their inquiry looking at how the Welsh Government has implemented its Cancer Delivery Plan:
This process can be a lengthy one. National Assembly committees scrutinising (looking at, analysing, and suggesting improvements to ideas) laws the Welsh Government has put forward can take a number of months from start to finish.
Scrutiny for the National Assembly means:
- making sure the Welsh Government is spending money in an effective way;
- making sure the laws the Welsh Government want to introduce are good ones, and;
- reviewing the Welsh Government’s policies.
The National Assembly wants to make sure the Welsh Government is doing its job properly, acting like a watchdog. This is exactly what council scrutiny committees do, but rather than looking at things on a Wales-wide basis as our committees do, your local council’s scrutiny committees look at the decisions made, and the money spent by council leaders in your local area.
This is a video of Eluned Parrott AM explaining the work of the National Assembly’s Enterprise and Business Committee:
If you’re a council or a National Assembly scrutiny committee, you rely on the information you receive during the consultation period, which can come from individuals, groups and/or organisations, but sometimes we don’t hear from the variety of people we would like to. This could be because the information we put out is technical and people don’t understand the jargon used, because they don’t access information through the National Assembly or council websites, twitter accounts, Facebook page, newsletters or any other means by which we try to communicate with our audiences. They don’t know that they have opportunities to take part, or they don’t feel comfortable in taking part by writing to a committee.
Way back in 2013, the Wales Audit Office held their Scrutiny in the Spotlight event at the SWALEC stadium in Cardiff, September 2014 saw the first GovCamp Cymru event, and in November last year Dave McKenna (Swansea Council’s Scrutiny Manager) held a Twitter chat using #scrusm. Both our committees and Swansea Council’s Scrutiny Committee face the challenge of encouraging more people to take part in scrutiny activities, so Dave, Dyfrig (Wales Audit Office’ Good Practice Exchange) and I, having taken part in the sessions mentioned above, decided to arrange a get together to talk about how we can try and tackle the issue.
Dave and I set an agenda which was split into two parts. The first was to discuss public engagement in scrutiny and more specifically:
- how the National Assembly does it;
- how the National Assembly plans it; and
- what effect does it have?
The second part was based around talking about how we use online tools, apps, and other channels to communicate with the public.
Peter Black AM and Mike Hedges AM, both local Swansea Assembly Members, came along during the day to talk about their experiences in taking part in engagement activities for committee inquiries, how it influenced the scrutiny process and the recommendations committees make to Welsh Government ministers.
In the next blog entries I’ll talk in detail about the things we spoke about, and some of the examples cited during the day.