Achieving Accountability in Public Services

This report has been prepared for the Commission on Public Service Governance and Delivery. It draws together recent debates and research evidence to address questions that are directly relevant to the Commission’s work: (1) How to improve the accountability of public service partnerships? (2) How to improve the effectiveness of regulatory accountability? (3) How to enhance political accountability?

The research evidence points to four principal conclusions:

  1. Achieving effective accountability in partnership settings is difficult because of the complexity and ambiguity of their governance arrangements.
  2. Regulators in Wales are working hard to support improvement in public services but tend to focus on process rather than outcomes and do not generate enough of the kinds of data that engage public involvement.
  3. Local authorities have struggled to conduct joint scrutiny because of a lack of capacity and ambiguity about roles and responsibilities.
  4. Welsh public service organizations do not have a sufficiently strong culture of openness and accountability.

These findings have important implications. They demonstrate that:

  • It is important to ensure that accountability mechanisms are built into partnership arrangements from the outset. They need to enable effective:
  • Internal accountability among immediate partner representatives
  • Internal accountability from partner representatives to funding organizations
  • External regulation of the strategic and corporate capacity of the partnership
  • Political scrutiny (by local government or the National Assembly depending on the nature of the partnership) of the impacts of partnership expenditure and strategy on local public services and wider policy outcomes.
  • Regulators need to do more to engage the public in evaluating public services.
  • To be effective, collaborative scrutiny requires more resources and there needs to be a change of political culture. Welsh public services, at all levels, should welcome challenge and scrutiny as a means of enabling learning and performance improvement