Accountability and public scrutiny - it seemed to go OK!


Thanks again for the many helpful comments on yesterday's post. The speech seemed to go down well and some of the points I picked up from the blog were the best received.

After describing the reasons why the traditional bureaucratic form of scrutiny is having the rug pulled from under the scrutineers' feet, I went on to describe the four features of what might be called 'post bureaucratic' or 'big society' scrutiny.

First, a much deeper and more imaginative commitment to public and user engagement in scrutiny. Like for example the award winning panel in Cheshire West and Chester which put huge efforts into engaging young people themselves in an assessment of services for 'looked after children'.

Second, scrutiny has to offer a different order of evaluation - more rounded and in depth - than can come from other forms of performance assessment. Local government Secretary of State Eric Pickles has talked about 'armchair auditors' using new data sets like those now available on central and local public spending. Scrutiny has to show it can complement these forms of DIY accountability.

Third, scrutiny needs to spend less time on exploring whether policy solutions work and more on whether agencies are defining the problem adequately. A focus on problems inherently leads to a viewpoint which is both more 'joined up' and which sees the vital importance of public mobilisation.

Fourth, this focus on problems builds a bridge from scrutiny about the past to deliberation about the future. If scrutiny is going to be seen as relevant and worth funding it has to as much about getting policies right for the future as about reflecting on performance in the past.

I started my speech by talking about the RSA idea of a 'social aspiration gap' between the future citizens want and the one they will create relying on existing forms of thinking and behaviour. Ordinary scrutiny describes aspects of that gap. Post bureaucratic scrutiny can help to close it.

PS Hats off again to the Coalition for its boldness on prisons policy. It makes me feel embarassed and slightly ashamed of New Labour's almost complete unwillingness to confront public opinion and the press on this issue. Another tough question for those Labour leadership hustings?

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