Scrutiny of the Future Generations Commissioner: Annual Scrutiny

Mar 1, 2018 | Articles, Assembly Business | 0 comments

Plenary 1st March 2018

09:59
Watch on Senedd TV
Gareth Bennett AM

Gareth Bennett AM

Party: United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP)

Yes. Could I just quickly ask something relating to what Sophie said earlier? Would that be—?

John Griffiths AM

John Griffiths AM

Party: Welsh Labour Constituency: Newport East

Yes, sure.

Gareth Bennett AM

Gareth Bennett AM

Party: United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP)

It is to do with health. You were saying that you have an aspiration now that new money should be better spent on preventative spending because of this problem of the bottomless pit, as you called it, which I think is a very sensible idea. So, I just wondered how far you’ve got in pushing that goal with the health department, and with the Government in particular, and are you hopeful that that will become an aspiration that the Government shares?

Sophie Howe

I’ve recently written to the Cabinet Secretary for health specifically in relation to the £100 million transformation fund that he has announced. That’s a new amount of money that’s going in, and I think that there are some real opportunities around that. I haven’t yet had a response from him. However, what we have notified—. I also met recently with the director of the NHS and his senior team. I have told them that I expect to see some significant shift in this next budgeting round in terms of health prevention, and I won’t rule out using my statutory review powers if we don’t start to see that.

One of the issues that we’ve got, however, is that—and this might be an issue that the committee might want to flag—there’s not, actually, within Government an agreed definition of prevention. I know that a number of other Assembly committees have raised this as a concern in previous sessions. There is some work being done by a third sector partnership group who are looking at what definitions of prevention might be. Cathy actually had a meeting with the NHS team. On the prevention definition, we’re talking across Government, but I’m particularly focusing in terms of NHS. Cathy had a meeting with the senior team this week as well, and I’m going to be writing back to the Cabinet Secretary and the director of the NHS in terms of some dates by which we want a definition of prevention nailed down. If I’m honest, if there’s not a definition of prevention nailed down by the Government, with advice from stakeholders, in time for this year’s budget round, I will do the work myself and identify a definition by which I will assess the Government’s budget proposals, because I don’t think we can keep going round this circle of, ‘We haven’t got a definition, so anything can be prevention’, and be satisfied with that. So, there are a number of things playing into this, but I think that that definition is important, and the response of the Cabinet Secretary in terms of the £100 million transformation fund.

Gareth Bennett AM

Gareth Bennett AM

Party: United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP)

Okay. Thanks.

Cathy Madge

Can I add something really quickly?

Sophie Howe

Yes.

Cathy Madge

I’ve also met with the strategic budgeting team about this this week, because Mark Drakeford, who was sort of the lead on our work with finance—they’re the core team we’re working with on the different bits of the budget. I think that the comments they made were symptomatic of the way the Welsh Government is resourcing the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act. They don’t have one core team that does all of the work on WFG, which I think is a really sensible thing to do because it helps mainstream through departments, but I think we do have some concerns that, on some of the more challenging ways of working—so, particularly on long-term thinking, using futures, using foresight, and also on prevention—there’s not a sort of single place we can go, and a single contact. So, it does sometimes feel as though we ask a question and we get directed through so many different bits, we don’t really get a clear answer. So, I think that’s one thing that is becoming a bit clearer to us, that we can’t just look—. Health is a really good place to start on prevention, obviously, but it’s not just about health, because a lot of the levers that actually will prevent problems don’t actually exist within the health department. It’s not just about strategic budgeting because they are maybe towards the end of the decision-making process. It’s about policy change earlier on. So, the fact that we are sort of struggling to almost pinpoint a place to go to is a real challenge for us.

Gareth Bennett AM

Gareth Bennett AM

Party: United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP)

Yes. There was also a ministerial reshuffle—and you were on about active travel earlier, which could be part of the preventative spending—and active travel, I think, got shifted into a different ministerial portfolio. I wasn’t clear what the reason for that was, strategically. There might have been some political reason for it, of course, but do things like that help in what you’re doing? They’re going to add confusion, presumably, when you get things switched from one portfolio to another. Again, you’re dealing with different people.

Sophie Howe

Well, I suppose, for us and the rest of the commissioners and the third sector, there’s always a challenge when portfolios are shifted, because you’ve built relationships with particular people and then you have to start all over again. I suppose that’s a sort of necessary challenge within the system.

Gareth Bennett AM

Gareth Bennett AM

Party: United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP)

Yes, I suppose you have to. Public services boards: how are you progressing with their well-being plans, which are due for publication this May? And have the PSBs reported any challenges in preparing their plans?

Sophie Howe

I have a statutory duty to advise public services boards on the preparation of their well-being plans, and we’ve done a comprehensive piece of work around that. It wasn’t just a case of them sending us their well-being plans and then we had a kind of eight-week period to send them a letter back. We did a lot of prior engagement in the run-up to how they were thinking about their well-being plans. A number of them sent us not necessarily draft plans, but vaguer ideas, and we’ve worked with their teams to try and put some better form around them. We also held a conference for all public services board members and leads last July to give them an opportunity to share learning and develop their thinking.

So, what we’ve tried to do is understand the context within which the public services boards are working. We have provided face-to-face advice, telephone support and had various to-ing and fro-ing of correspondence. Just to give an example of some of the feedback to their assessments and advice on draft objectives, as you know, I’ve got a priority around adverse childhood experiences. We have been really pleased to see that the work we’ve done on promoting that more generally and through the specific advice that we’ve given to PSBs means that now 16 of the 19 PSBs have had adverse childhood experiences or issues relating to them as one of their priorities. So, I think that’s a demonstration of the impact that we’ve made there.

We’ve also seen our advice make changes to the draft plans that were coming forward from when we first started the discussions with them to the final versions or the versions that’ve gone out to consultation. The Vale of Glamorgan and Torfaen changed the objectives that they were proposing in their plans following our advice so that they’re now looking at far more integrated objectives, which will make more of a contribution to the national goals. Powys PSB took advice that we gave them on the long term and are now setting a 2050 vision within their plans. Cardiff PSB, again whom we’ve given advice to, have refined their plan around Cardiff Today and Cardiff Tomorrow, and I think that some of the things that they’re putting in there in terms of that thinking to the future, ‘What is Cardiff going to look like in the future, and therefore, what actions do we need to take now?’ is probably one of the better plans that we’ve seen. And, Monmouthshire, then, following our advice around involvement, they were originally not going to involve people other than the PSB members in the development of well-being objectives, and they’ve now done that; they’ve done a big involvement piece around it.

So, we think that the advice is starting to have some impact. There is an anomaly in the legislation, which is worth flagging, which is that I have a duty to advise public services boards on their well-being plans but not to monitor or assess them on what they then actually do to deliver those plans. I don’t have a duty to advise individuals, or a power to advise—I suppose I can issue advice, generally, but not specifically in relation to the setting of the well-being objectives in relation to individual public bodies—but I have a duty to monitor and assess them. So, the legislation feels to me to be a little bit back-to-front in that regard, and I think there are some issues in terms of who, then, is monitoring the public services boards’ delivery. Now, we’ve been giving some thought to that within our teams, and, obviously, I do have duties around monitoring the individual public bodies who sit on the PSBs so we can get at the PSB through that route, if you see what I mean, but the legislation isn’t very clear in how we go about doing that. I just wanted to flag that as a bit of an issue.

Gareth, you asked about PSBs reporting any challenges in preparing their well-being plans. I guess we have some concerns about how some of them have gone about it and they have flagged some concerns to us. In terms of our concerns, there are some of them who are treating this as a kind of compliance exercise. So, they’re so focused on writing a plan and going through the consultation process and so on, they’re sort of missing the point of what the plan is trying to achieve, and perhaps the focus is that rather than getting on with the doing. I think there are issues around how some of the PSBs are actually working. Some of the better ones—and we’re seeing an increasing number of these types of things happening—are doing sessions with all members and bringing in some other interested parties, if you like, on specific themes. So, ‘How do we tackle childhood obesity?’—put that in the middle of the discussion, take away what it is that we already do and let’s work that through. Those are some of the better PSBs. Some of the not-so-good PSBs are tending to run PSBs like another local authority committee, where you turn up to a meeting once a month with a long agenda and a series of presentations, and perhaps you go away not having reached any particular decisions that are going to change anything. So, I think there are some issues there.

In terms of who scrutinises the PSBs, the duty is on PSB scrutiny committees, which are scrutiny committees within local authorities. We’ve recently done some joint sessions with the Wales Audit Office’s good practice exchange team to look at how we can develop a better understanding with those scrutiny members of what the obligations are under the Act. We’re also developing a toolkit, a checklist of questions, if you like, and challenges that scrutiny committee members could use to challenge the PSBs. But we’re talking about how PSBs are working and, in some areas, there’s some development need, perhaps, there, and that is equally the case in terms of the scrutiny. So, there are those two things that aren’t—. I think that there’s a need for me and the Auditor General for Wales to work out how we’re going to jointly use our powers in an innovative way to get to the PSB scrutiny. And those are some of the things that we’re discussing with them.

In terms of the concerns that they’ve raised, they’ve raised things like the cultures that are very different between different organisations, and sometimes that makes it difficult to collaborate. They’ve also raised issues around resourcing. That was quite a big issue at the outset—you know, ‘Who’s going to provide the resourcing for secretariat, research work, analytical work and so on for the PSBs?’ And, I think one of the key things that we identified through the well-being assessment work that we did is that there’s a really big issue in terms of the deterioration of the corporate centres and policy teams within our organisations. So, within local authorities, for example, those sorts of teams were the first to go in terms of local authority cuts and the like. That’s not a criticism; I understand that, because they’re not seen as front-line services. What that has meant is that the capacity of those individual organisations, and then in terms of feeding into the kind of collaborative work of the PSB, is quite significantly undermined, so they are struggling, really, with that kind of policy and analytical capacity, and we certainly saw that through the approach that they’d taken in terms of identifying long-term trends in their well-being assessments and really getting to the root causes of prevention and so on. So, there are some challenges around that.

On the upside, we’ve seen a number of them look at some really good innovative collaborations to try and address some of those challenges. Cwm Taf PSB, which is the Rhondda Cynon Taf and Merthyr PSB that have merged, have done some work around joint consultations on an information sharing platform. So, they recognise that, as individual public bodies, they were all going out, doing their consultations, asking the same people sometimes the same things. So, it was an ineffective use of resources and, quite frankly, it was probably irritating the people who were being asked the same things again and again. They’ve come together to try and provide a common platform where, for example, if the PSB wants to do something or the local authority wants to do something and health have already got a consultation that they’ve done that might provide some insight, that is now readily accessible on a shared platform. And they’re looking at better ways in which they can actually to do joint consultations in the first place. So, that’s really positive.

The Gwent public services boards, who work together quite well, generally have been doing some work around trying to look at a happiness index. They’ve been working with an organisation called Happy City, and we’re keeping a watching brief on that because we think that that could provide some useful insight for other PSBs. So, I think that there are positive signs. There are still some, as I said, who are running it as a kind of corporate compliance, local authority committee-type exercise, but there are those—I talked about that transformational journey—who are in that kind of developing understanding and moving towards the next phase as well.