Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Accountability

I thought Today's Thought for the Day particularly apposite this morning. The Canon was commenting on today's appearance by the owners of the Evil Empire before the HoC Select Committee.

He pointed out that in the Jewish Calender the Day of Atonement follows the Day of Judgment. So for the Murdochs to appear contrite ( if they do that is ! )before the committee is not enough. There needs to be judgment.

So, we in the sector sit and watch with an element of satisfaction as the Mighty are brought humble and low. However can we be entirely self satisfied?

The recent Government White Paper " Open Public Services" raised the issue of accountability in delivery. As it stated, " providers must be held to account by commissioners and service users....we will ensure that, at both the national and local levels, Commissioning decisions and the performance of providers are transparent and open to public scrutiny".

This is an issue of importance where the sector needs to reflect carefully on how it operates.

I remember vividly some years back arguing with a good friend who Chaired a Health Authority about third sector service delivery. She said to me the problem for her was that if the Council delivers a poor servcie she knows her councillors or knows how to get to their surgery. She knows who sits on a health authority. But does she know who runs Leonard Cheshire, for example. How are our trustees selected? How does she complain about poor service? Do we even have complaints procedures and what if there are a multiplicity of providers ?

If we are delivering more and more taxpayer funded contracts we will need to consider how we demonstrate accountability.

In the recent Health Listening exercise the question of extending measures like FoI and the stipulation to meet in public were debated. Instinctively I recoiled from extending FoI but don't taxpayers have a right to know how we go about delivering a public service? Do we need to be more transparent on our appointment of trustees? Should we hold part of our Trustee Board meetings in public?

Whilst delivery of public service remains small these are issues we have not had to address but the current public appetite for information on how public bodies behave will soon come to rest on us. I do not believe we should adopt public sector clunky bureaucratic process driven approaches. We have better things to do than form filing. But real accountability does not rest there.

Many ACEVO members are already tackling this. There are some great examples of impact reporting and open information and outcome measures. We need to encourage more. Get better at open recruitment of trustees. Consider how we handle complaints better. Think about how to tackle proper requests for information. But based on effective measures of demonstrating outcome not process and bureaucracy or prurient journalistic delight in gossip.

There is a debate to be had here!

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