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Democracy, Governance and Truth

Report of the CfPS Conference


Thursday 1st December 2016
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1. Introduction
The plenary sessions of this conference were thematic, as follows:

Leadership, governance and accountability


Democracy and truth
Shaping accountability in a complex landscape
Lessons from the past: getting fit for the future

Workshops were held on the following areas:

21st Century Councillor


Devolution and good governance
Modern scrutiny skills
Purposeful public engagement
Scrutinising complex partnerships

2. Leadership, governance and accountability


The governments austerity programme, devolution and policy on the health service
came under scrutiny in this session.
As a result of austerity, public service delivery has become fragmented, lacks
accountability and transparency and is subject to arms-length rather than hands-on
management. Quite often public service delivery is controlled through secret
conversations between companies such as G4S and Serco.
The principle of devolution is generally considered a good thing but it is questionable
whether local authorities are being engaged in an appropriate and effective manner.
There are very real financial challenges on the devolution agenda and serious
questions to be answered on the health and social care budget.
Of course, the key concern of the moment on the NHS is Sustainability and
Transformation Plans (STPs). Lord Kerslake, former Head of the Civil Service and Chair
of the CfPS argued that, in principle, STPs are welcomed especially through the areabased approach but the approach is wrong. Plans need to formulated bottom-up and
not top-down.
Finally, an interesting point was made by Meg Hillier MP, the Chair of the Public
Accounts Committee, when she suggested the idea of a Citizen Auditor to examine
the quality of public service delivery.

3. Democracy and truth


The first part of this session was disappointing as Andy Burnham MP chose to use it as
a soundbite-laden pitch for his candidacy for the Mayor of Manchester. However, the
underlying message rang true: government has centralised, there is a deep sense of
Dr. Geoffrey A. Walker - Democracy, Governance & Truth - 10/12/2016

abandonment in the regions and the imbalance needs to be re-dressed through a


meaningful, long-lasting and meaningful consultation.
Jonathan Carr-West, the Chief Executive of the Local Government Information Unit,
gave an inspiring presentation on the theme of thinking differently.
He suggested a 5 point plan:
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.

We must not repeat the errors of national government.


Local government needs to be more representative.
Local government needs to directly engage local communities.
We need to better understand the capacity of councils.
Councils need to better networkers and engagers.

It was recognised that there was a serious democratic deficit in our society and any
attempt to redress this imbalance must include the consideration of a proportional
representation electoral system and fixed-term office for Councillors.

4. Shaping accountability in a complex landscape


There was an interesting case study of devolution in Cornwall in this session presented
by Kate Kenally, Chief Executive of Cornwall Council. There was an emphasis upon the
context of place and the need to retain cultural identity when devolving government.
Clearly, one size does not fit all. The relationships between feelings, emotions and
culture within a given area are complex and change needs to take place on a micro as
well as a macro level within the devolution process.
The second part of this session (Katie Ghose, The Electoral Reform Society) examined
the role of local government within the changing landscape focusing on the voting
system and its creation of a democratic deficit within areas. There is a considerable
movement towards reducing the number of Councillors, introducing a fairer,
proportional system of election, such as, the Single Transferable Vote (STV) and having
fixed-term office for elected members.
5. Lessons from the past: getting fit for the future
This session was divided into scrutiny, digital democracy and the role of the 21st
century public servant.
The political, social and economic landscape has been subject to considerable change.
Scrutiny must engage a digital mindset as it examines products and processes. This
must be coupled with an openness and transparency in terms of agenda-setting,
deliberation and policy formulation: the real stuff of the network society.
Practitioners, within local government, need to be more experimental, be willing to
learn together, reflect of practice, engage in collective sense-making and storytelling
about what works and what doesnt.
The 21st century public servant must be:

an entrepreneurial broker;
a storyteller;
a resource weaver;
a system architect;
and, a reflective practitioner.

6. 21st Century Councillor


Dr. Geoffrey A. Walker - Democracy, Governance & Truth - 10/12/2016

This workshop introduced members to research conducted by Professor Colin Copus of


DeMontfort University and Catherine Mangan of INLOGOV on the role of councillors.
For the third time, in the days sessions, the question of fixed term of office for
Councillors was raised. Clearly, there is a considerable body of thought that higher
turnover of representation will result in a significant change in the personal and
professional profile of councillors.
The first question that a Councillor should be asking of themselves is: why do I want to
do this? There are, of course, many reasons: public service, democratic spirit, personal
ambition, social status, some of these, all of these or other. At the heart of the driving
process, however, is the conflict between the personal and the political which takes
place within the context of current and future challenges.
The complexities of the 21st Century mean that members are subject to 24/7 patterns
of working, working amidst linked and constantly-changing levels of government with
an ever-present reminder of the publics perception of official mind versus public
image. There is a strong feeling that the role is now one of bringing order to chaos,
that there are some areas that are impossible to govern and the conflict between
strategic and operational issues. There is a blurring of Councillor and Officer roles due
to reduced resources.
So, what are the skills needed to be an effective 21st century councillor? These can be
divided into two areas: foundational and relational. The foundational skillset contains
appropriate and effective training, knowledge-sharing and practical, transferable skills
while the relational skillset consists of inter-personal, digital and reflective skills.
Reference:
https://21stcenturypublicservant.wordpress.com/

Cllr. Dr. Geoffrey A. Walker

Dr. Geoffrey A. Walker - Democracy, Governance & Truth - 10/12/2016