15 February 2008
Public bodies in Wales must stop putting their own needs first and instead focus on meeting the expectations of citizens for quality services, the minister in charge has warned.
Andrew Davies, the Welsh minister for finance and public service delivery, has called on the country's public sector managers to shift their attention from inputs to outcomes.
He was speaking at a conference in Cardiff on February 6, organised by the Welsh Assembly Government and sponsored by CIPFA, which brought together finance directors from across the Welsh public sector.
Davies acknowledged that the public sector had received a 'tough finance settlement' for 2008 to 2011, following last year's Comprehensive Spending Review, but he told conference delegates that this was not a justification for poor performance.
He said: 'It isn't what we spend, it's what we get in return that matters, so the focus will increasingly be on outcomes. We should be judged not on how much we spend on specific initiatives, but on whether we meet our aims.'
Davies told delegates he would shortly be publishing a consultation paper, Principles for citizen-centred governance, which would set out the change in culture that he wanted.
'I'm determined that our public services should be as good, if not better, than services anywhere else in the world,' he said.
'But too often when public services are not good, we've lost sight of the fact that it's the citizen who should be the focus of what we do, not the needs of the organisation. We need to think differently and act differently.'
Establishing these principles at the heart of service delivery would be 'a substantial challenge for all of us', Davies said, but the change was vital to deal with patchy services.
The minister said he would shortly be launching a public sector leadership academy, which would train the next cadre of leaders and managers for Welsh public bodies and help to foster the desired new approach
to public services. Davies also pledged to set up a ministerial advisory group, with members drawn from the public, private and voluntary sectors, to scrutinise the way the Welsh public sector operates.
'We need more challenge in the system. Wales is a small country, everyone knows each other and it can be too cosy and consensual,' he said.
FDs 'need more skills than accountancy'
The role of the public sector finance director is becoming increasingly complex, and having a sound grasp of accountancy is no longer enough to do the job well, Ian Carruthers said.
CIPFA's policy and technical director told delegates that the modern FD needed to develop a much broader range of skills.
'You can't just be an accountant any more. You've got to know the broader context and work with other professionals,' Carruthers said. 'Technical knowledge is important, but now you need more than that.'
Accountants also need to help colleagues throughout the organisation to appreciate how finance underpins broader corporate objectives. 'There is a real issue about convincing generalists that finance matters and they need to understand it,' he added.
To respond to the new demands facing finance professionals, CIPFA is developing a pan-public sector statement that sets out the role of the finance director.
The institute launched a finance directors' survey on February 13, designed to identify how the role is changing and the factors influencing these developments.
The results will be published in June.
Daws calls for projects to be managed better
Capital investment programmes in Wales need to be managed better, with clearer priorities from the outset and improved oversight of projects as they are executed, according to Christine Daws.
The director of finance for the Welsh Assembly Government told delegates that a number of weaknesses had been identified in relation to infrastructure schemes, and these needed to be tackled.
'One thing we need to do is get better at delivering capital projects on time and to budget,' Daws said.
In some instances, public bodies 'can't actually identify the priorities' at the outset, she added. Project management also needs to be strengthened, as does the governance of schemes involving several different organisations.
Daws said the WAG had agreed to set up a ministerial sub-committee to look at ways of developing the skills needed to manage capital projects. A ministerial advisory body would also be set up 'in the next few months', under the Nolan principles for public appointments, to provide expertise in this area.
Earlier in the conference Daws said the three-year financial settlement meant that spending on public services would rise by 0.8% in 2008/09, then by 2.1% and 2.6% in succeeding years. This equates to an additional £3.64bn for the public sector, taking the total budget to more than £16bn by 2011.
But the slower growth in spending would stretch public bodies, Daws conceded. 'The challenge is how we can carry on seeing real and lasting improvements in services with the spending growth we will see.
'This is about a change in culture. How can we do things better, rather than looking to the government for more resources,' she added.