Back in January we launched our ‘My Healthy Town’ campaign with a view to gathering – your views on whether your neighbourhood was in good health. The response we received was fantastic with the Welsh public really grasping the opportunity to tell us about the things the matter to you. The comments we received helped us enormously and contributed to the final report.
In many ways the approach was a departure from our normal audit approach where we get most of our information from within organisations, through interviews with staff or by looking at their accounts – the cleanliness, safety and quality of where we live is something that affects us all and that really came through in the responses we received to our online survey.
One comment from the public survey that really stood out said;
‘I would like to see a system where the local people are fully informed and can be part of the discussions about what needs to be provided, and how it is provided’
From this and also the response to the campaign it is clear that there is a real desire from citizens to be involved in the services they use, to have a say about how they are run and to hold public services to account if standards drop.
It is true that our councils, our health services, our emergency services and our government can no longer ignore the power of public opinion and public desire to help shape services. Put simply people want to be heard.
It is not enough to just guess at what the public needs from services or, indeed, what they think of what is already on offer. Like the game show Family Fortunes we can’t afford to hear that dreaded buzzer when it’s too late, we need to know the ‘top answer’ right now so we can improve services.
This was very much the basis for the report. Not only did we ask for views from the public but also we gathered opinion from the councils, the councillors and of course the environmental health staff whose job it is to keep our towns healthy. What this has given us is a true picture of the standard of environmental health in Wales, by hearing from the people who both use the services and those who provide them. The report is a detailed snapshot of Welsh council’s environmental health services in the 21st century.
What we found was a service that given the current financial pressures is at breaking point, a service that needs to quickly find ways of improving efficiency and effectiveness if they are to continue to meet their legal duties and to the standards we expect.
Essentially, like many other services at this time, councils need to innovate how they deliver and find new ways of delivering environmental health services, based on clear priorities and standards that are sustainable at a time when budgets become stretched.
What better way to do this than involving the public, the very people who rely on their services?
If you would like to view the report that was informed by the My Healthy Town campaign, Delivering with Less –the Impact on Environmental Health Services and Citizens, you can do so by visiting the Wales Audit Office website at www.wao.gov.uk
Nick Selwyn is a Local Government Manager at the Wales Audit Office, with responsibilities for our programme of all-Wales studies. He has worked for the WAO for eight years in a variety of roles and is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Housing.