I have finally finished work on the Scrutiny Handbook. I got my final draft copy back today from the Head of Department, and once I have amended things in line with his comments, we will be ready to go to print.
It is 53 A5 pages long, and explains the Scrutiny process both specific to its operation in West Norfolk, as well as in general terms that I guess could be of help to anyone. I hope.
I enjoyed writing the Handbook, and it has made me want to try and expand it into a larger pamphlet about scrutiny in general, involving case studies and stuff, to expand on the all too brief section on ‘Good Scrutiny’:
Throughout the Handbook, various mention has been made of good practice in Scrutiny and Overview. This section will outline out some of the important general points to ensure that Scrutiny and Overview is effective.The lessons to be learned can be reduced down to three points:
By ensuring that these points are given attention, any piece of scrutiny, review or monitoring exercise will be effective and will provide a more robust challenge, as well as more useful background work, to the Executive.
This is the key to successful scrutiny, whether it be holding a Cabinet Member to account or reviewing a policy on the Executive’s behalf. Preparation should include:
- Ensuring that every piece of work done has a clear and measurable objective, and that Terms of Reference are unambiguous
- Ensuring that everyone involved is up-to-speed with the subject matter being discussed
- Ensuring that all necessary papers are sent out well in advance
- Ensuring that the right people are invited to a meeting
- Ensuring that all invitees have plenty of notice and know what their role will be
If these points are followed, then an informed debate should result in clear and useful outcomes.
Scrutiny and Overview is all about participation. It aims to draw in non-Executive members to the policy process and offer them the platform to question decisions and policies and to offer plausible alternatives.
This is certainly achieved for those Members on Scrutiny and Overview bodies. However, Members not already serving on these can also be involved, by asking to speak at a meeting or by being involved in a Task Group or Informal Working Group, and their skills can be utilised.
The Public also needs to be able to participate in local democracy, and Scrutiny and Overview offers the ideal interface for that to take place.
The other main group which must be involved for Scrutiny to succeed is Expert Witnesses, who have a good deal of knowledge on specific subject which can be very useful to improve the quality of discussion.
Fundamentally, Scrutiny and Overview has to work in Partnership with other parts of the Council. Most importantly, this should be the case with the Executive and officers.
Scrutiny and Overview has to work in partnership with the Executive, and this should work on trust:
- The Executive should be able to trust Scrutiny and Overview to provide sensible and constructive criticism and advice
- Scrutiny and Overview should be able to trust the Executive to take notice of their recommendations and to act upon them as appropriate
Officers also need to work in partnership with Scrutiny and Overview to ensure that work is not repeated but that all the necessary information and reports are provided.
Perhaps the 2004/5 Annual Report will allow me to do this. Otherwise, I might see if I can pull some stuff together in my own time.