Scrutiny Best Practice Guide outline

Have been putting some more thought into my idea for a Scrutiny Best Practice booklet.

Here’s a draft outline plan:

Introduction

  • Preparation, Participation, Partnership
  • A Note on Structures

Part One: Preparation

  • Objectives and Outcomes
  • Research
  • Agendas and Reports
  • The Meeting
  • Post Meeting

Part Two: Participation

  • Scrutiny and Overview Members
  • Backbench Members
  • The Executive
  • The Public
  • Officers
  • Expert Witnesses
  • Methods of Participation

Part Three: Partnership

  • Scrutiny and the Executive
  • Scrutiny and ‘Backbenh’ Councillors
  • Scrutiny and the Public
  • Scrutiny and the Media

Conclusion

  • Using Preparation, Participation and Partnership to create sucessful outcomes

The aim would be to put together case studies each chapter showing how things can be done – and how they might have been done better.

Scrutiny Handbook

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’:

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:

  • Preparation
  • Participation
  • Partnership

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.

Preparation

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.

Participation

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.

Partnership

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.

A Website for NSN?

On my Wikiblog, I posted thoughts on a possible website for the Norfolk Scrutiny Network.

I’ve put together an email to the two people that run the Network:

Karen, Mike

Without wishing to go over old ground, I have been giving a bit of thought to the website idea for the Network which I mentioned last year sometime. I didn’t take it any further at the time, as I thought Karen’s points were valid and would mean that it would be unlikely ever to get off the ground.

However, I’ve become interested in this again following discussions in and around the Conference, when various topics, like inter-authority working, were talked about and I think a website might be a great way to facilitate these sorts of projects.

Recently, in a non work related capacity, I have come across a bit of free software which enables websites to be setup and maintained quickly and easily, and where pages can be edited and created by any registered user. This would obviously alleviate the problem of who would update the site: everybody would. It’s remarkably easy to use and something that would literally take me half an hour to set up.

Stuff I thought of that could go on the site:

* NSN Admin stuff – a permanent record of minutes, agendas etc

* Individual Authorities’ pages – to be used as much or as little as necessary. For example, Norfolk County have a regularly updated, useful Scrutiny webpage and so little more than contact information and a link might be required. But for those authorities whose Scrutiny websites are more limited – possibly for technological reasons – (such as us!) this could be a really useful way of making information available.

* Library of reviews undertaken by member authorities.

* Collaborative Working – as mentioned above. This is what could be really interesting, and innovative. Using the website to conduct a County-wide review: maintaining lines of communication, sharing research and bits of data, inviting the public’s involvement. Rather in the same way (though obviously on a much smaller scale) that the Hutton enquiry put all evidence gathered on a website, this has the potential to do something similar – using IT but being very open at the same time.

* We could have a Scrutiny ‘blog’ – again, maintained by everybody. If someone comes across a piece of news which might not merit a large piece being written it would be possible for them to post a quick message on the blog, with a link to wherever that news first appeared. Occasional commentaries on work being undertaken could also be posted, inviting comment and suggestions from other members.

* How about an electronically maintained library of documents, booklets and articles about Scrutiny issues? There must be a wide range of documents which each authority has but which no-one else knows about or has access to. By maintaining a list of who-has-what and how to get hold of things, it might be possible to share this information around more easily.

* The advantages of having a site held off a Council server also means that all member authorities could use the site as a means to using the internet to gather information, such as by holding online questionnaires, for example.

Again, it’s possible I’m being a bit pie-in-the-sky over this, and work would have to be put in by everyone to make it work – though not perhaps as many as one might think. But in terms of raising the profile of scrutiny, and more specifically, scrutiny in Norfolk, especially when it comes to the issue of collaborative working, it could be a winner.

Haven’t sent it yet – it’s a good practice to hang onto these things and considers them later on!