Councils in Wales are having to make important decisions about the future shape and level of services they deliver. And, generally, they have clear visions, priorities and arrangements in place to do this. But our report has found that councils could improve arrangements to monitor the impact on local communities of making significant changes to services.
The report brings together lessons learned from individual audits at all 22 local authorities which looked at governance arrangements. It highlights case studies and lessons learned at specific councils, which are designed to help local authorities learn from each other and understand how things can improve.
In responding to reductions in public spending and rising demand for some services, all unitary councils in Wales are continuing to make decisions about the services they provide. Such decisions are often controversial, generate considerable local interest and can have significant impacts on the individuals and groups affected. The Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act also means that councils have to deliver public services now that won’t compromise the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
While the report doesn’t make formal recommendations, it does point to areas where further work is needed. For example, some councils could consult stakeholders on the role that they think the council should play in the community; some could consider developing the capacity of officers in preparing proposals and business cases; there is scope to enhance the support to councillors to carry out their roles in the service change process more effectively.
This report also found that councils should consider a range of options for significant service changes supported by appropriate evidence to inform decisions; they should develop arrangements to systematically monitor the impact of making significant changes to services. And, they should routinely review their decision-making arrangements and make changes to these arrangements where appropriate.
We also intend to follow-up this report with an event in the New Year hosted by our Good Practice Exchange team.
The Auditor General for Wales, Huw Vaughan Thomas, said:
“Councils are increasingly having to make difficult decisions about changing the services they provide to the public and this is often a complex and controversial process. My report should serve as a useful handbook to those who have responsibility for this across Wales. We have uncovered lots of useful case studies of approaches that councils are taking and we also highlight where things need to improve. It is a must-read for councils.”