CfGS Annual Conference Blog

Posted on 04/08/2023 by Megan Ingle.

As you may be aware, we recently held our Annual Conference at the King’s Fund in London! Now that the dust has settled, we have drafted this blog to recap and share our highlights from the day.

The theme of the CfGS Annual Conference 2023 was ‘Governance and scrutiny fit for the future’ – building public trust to meet the challenges facing local services’, which we feel is a very pertinent and important subject matter, one that needs to be tackled within both local and national government. We chose this topic, as we are particularly concerned about the deepening loss of public trust in (local) democracy, and feel it is a tragedy if individuals believe that those who govern Britain do not care about them. Here at CfGS, we want to ensure that good governance is at the heart of  local democracy and that elected members are accountable and properly scrutinised. We wanted to include colleagues in this discussion, particularly those Elected Representatives, Officers and Local Government Professionals who will, of course have, lived experience of this within the sector and would also be able to provide peers with examples of best practice.

We were at full capacity this year! We had 115 delegates in attendance; to break that down further, there were: 45 Elected Members, 66 Officers and 4 attendees from the Local Government periphery. In terms of geographical spread, we had a good mix! See the map below where we have plotted attendance against geographical data. 

Regarding the running order of the day, our new Chief Executive, Mel Stevens, gave an opening address, followed by the Keynote Speech, titled ‘Governance, Scrutiny and Accountability = trust in politics’ by our Deputy Chief Executive, Ed Hammond. You can read Ed’s keynote here: [link].

Following this, our workshops began, which were on the theme of ‘Relationships, Behaviours, and the Transformation of Local Democracy’, these ran simultaneously and were led by our esteemed colleagues from the sector the topics of these were:

  • Conduct, standards, and behaviours in scrutiny- led by Helen Lynch (LLG National Lead Monitoring Officer, and Head of Legal & Democratic Services at Durham Council) and Jennifer Phillips (LLG Regional Director and principal litigation lawyer at Thanet Council).
  • Effective scrutiny of council finances- led by Guy Clifton (Director of Local Government Value for Money, Audit at Grant Thornton) and Iain Murray (Director of Public Financial Management at CIPFA).
  • Equality, diversity and inclusion as critical components of good Governance and Scrutiny- led by Manisha Patel (EDI Consultant and CfGS Associate).
  • Citizen Action: engaging residents (and campaigners) in effective scrutiny work- led by Dave McKenna (CfGS Associate).
  • Executive support for scrutiny: sharing perspectives- led by Ed Hammond, (Deputy Chief Executive, CfGS).

We received feedback from the workshop leads that there were some really interesting conversations taking place, delegates were engaged and brought new perspectives to the topics at hand. In terms of delegate feedback, we will come onto this shortly!

Then the panel session took place, which went down exceptionally well! This was Chaired by Councillor Abi Brown, Chairperson of the LGA Innovation and Improvement Board and the panel was comprised of Dr Polly Lord, Head of Local Public Services Research at New Local, Rachel McKoy, Director of Law and Governance and President-elect, London Borough of Hounslow Council and Lawyers in Local Government and Catherine Howe, Chief Executive of Adur and Worthing Councils and Chair of CfGS. They spoke about ‘the centrality of good governance to the future of local democracy and high-quality local service’ and they each brought their own unique experiences to the discussion, resulting in a really dynamic, noteworthy panel session! One delegate commented that it was a pleasant surprise to see an all women panel, of which we would agree (though this of course, should not be an anomaly)! 

Continuing into the afternoon, we had a workshop specifically for Officers/Governance Professionals and one for Elected Members.

For officers, we had ‘Career trajectories – do you have your own Forward Plan?’ Led by the Association for Democratic Services Officers (ADSO) (John Austin and Peter Sass) and for Members, on the topic of the intersection between good scrutiny and party politics’, led by Tony Jackson, CfGS Associate. The Officer session led by ADSO had many insightful points about career progression in local government and scrutiny more specifically and how to manage this. Likewise, the Member session was very well received with some really passionate individuals in the room!

To begin wrapping up the conference, we held a roundtable session led by Ed, where delegates were able to share examples of best practice, network and Ed fielded questions from the audience. Catherine Howe, our Chair and Chief Executive of Adur and Worthing undertook the closing plenary, a fantastic end to the day with rapturous applause!

We felt the conference was a great success and we came away buzzing with ideas! Our team learnt a lot from colleagues and delegates, and we hope they learnt something from us too!

Now, in terms of delegate feedback, we handed out feedback forms at the end of the day. Out of 115 delegates we received 75 forms back. We will now share some of that data with you:

The most popular reason for attendance was as follows:

  • Networking
  • Learning, development and professional development.
  • Learning from peers
  • Hearing best practice, key issues, practical ideas, up-to-date information and current/upcoming developments.

We asked what their overall assessment of the conference was, on a scale of 1-5 (1 being v poor, 5 being excellent)

  • 35% stated that it was ‘Excellent’
  • 55% stated that it was ‘Very Good’
  • 9% stated that it was ‘Good’
  • 1% stated that it was ‘Poor’

In terms of information presented, we asked how useful this was on a scale 1-5 (1 being v useful, 5 being excellent)

  • 33% stated that it was ‘Very Useful’
  • 49% stated that it was ‘Useful’
  • 15% stated that it was ‘Quite Useful’
  • 3% stated that it was ‘Not Useful’

We had lots of positive feedback from the workshop sessions for example:

  • Had lots of comments stating that workshops were ‘of good quality’, ‘thought-provoking’, ‘a good opportunity to gain knowledge, ‘topical’, and ‘informative’.
  • The Citizen Action workshop was mentioned several times for being ‘creative’, ‘interactive’, ‘well-thought out’ and ‘rewarding’.
  • Executive Support workshop- comments included ‘helpful to share experiences’ ‘I enjoyed the exec/scrutiny workshop in particular. Some really good discussions’.
  • Conduct and standards- ‘really v good;’
  • EDI – ‘engaging and interactive, took a lot from it’.

In terms of constructive criticism (which we take seriously and it will help us to improve our conferences in the future) some delegates highlighted that:

  • It would have been helpful to attend more than one workshop (in the AM)
  • That the workshops could have been longer.
  • Because of the length, it at times felt a bit rushed, tried to cram a bit too much in.

We will definitely be incorporating this feedback into our conference next year, to further improve the delegate experience and learning.

The speaker feedback was very positive:

  • Lots of positive feedback on the panel: ‘very good’, ‘…some were excellent, the panel in particular’, ‘I enjoyed the variety of experience’, ‘great’, ‘very knowledgeable’, ‘enjoyed that it was straight after lunch’, ‘informative’.
  • ‘Catherine had some great insights’
  • ‘Dr Howe excellent’
  • ‘Speakers all spoke well and were engaging’
  • ‘Deputy Chief Exec Plenary very useful’
  • ‘Ed was good’
  • ‘Ed Hammond, excellent as always’
  • ‘Panel session excellent and Ed as always’
  • ‘Very good overall. speakers all v interesting – would love to hear more about their career paths, especially the ladies’

We asked what the main takeaways were for delegates from the conference, which we will outline some examples below:

  • The importance of networking
  • Learning about Oflog
  • New ideas for community engagement
  • Expanded knowledge (on reports, regulations, investigations)
  • Ideas for future direction/development of scrutiny
  • How to build trust in governance and overcome cynicism
  • Importance of the relationship between Cabinet and Scrutiny committees
  • How to effectively support and promote good scrutiny
  • Thinking about career planning
  • Reflecting on where decisions are made and how we can mould them before bringing them in front of Scrutiny.
  • The profile of scrutiny needs to be raised. Need parity for Members (Exec/Scrutiny) and Officers (Gov/Scrutiny)
  • Good insights, shared understandings of challenges and potential solutions

Finally, we asked ‘how likely are you to recommend CfGS/attendance at future conferences and events to others/colleagues’

  • 55% stated that they were ‘Very Likely’ to.
  • 42% stated that they were ‘Likely’ to.
  • 4% stated that they were ‘Quite Likely’ to.

A big thanks once again to all those that attended and participated this year, as one delegate stated ‘the future is bright for scrutiny’ and we are 100% in agreement!