In May 2019 the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government published new statutory guidance on Overview and Scrutiny in Local and Combined Authorities having taken into account the findings and recommendations of the House of Commons CLG Committee report on the effectiveness of local authority Overview and Scrutiny Committees which was published in December 2017.
This report summarises the recommended policies and best practice included in the statutory guidance that local authorities should adopt, or consider adopting, with an overview of how the current arrangements in Medway measure up and some suggested areas for possible further discussion and development.
Members considered a report which summarised the recommended policies and best practice included in new statutory guidance on Overview and Scrutiny (O&S) in Local and Combined Authorities that local authorities should adopt, or consider adopting, with an overview of how the current arrangements in Medway measured up and some suggested areas for possible further discussion and development.
There was a recognition that in many areas Medway was in a fairly healthy place overall in terms of its O&S arrangements. The Council’s four O&S Committees had different approaches to scrutiny, with the Health and Adult Social Care O&S Committee typically conducting scrutiny in a more outward looking manner. A Member commented that the Statutory Scrutiny Officer in local government did not have parity with the other statutory officers.
Members noted that the Guidance stated that, while it was for each authority to determine the method for selecting a Chair, councils should consider doing so by secret ballot. Some Members considered this an interesting suggestion but it was also argued that this method would lack transparency.
The point was made that, generally, Local Economic Partnerships (LEPs) were not effectively held to account and it was suggested that one model that could work in Medway would be to hold the LEP to account on an annual basis, followed by the Council’s representative on the LEP being held to account.
It was agreed that all Members should be made aware of the new Statutory Guidance by making it easily accessible.
The Committee agreed to instruct the Council’s Statutory Scrutiny Officer to take the following action, in consultation with the Chairman, Vice Chairman and Opposition Spokesperson of this Committee, in response to the revised Statutory Guidance on Overview and Scrutiny as set out in paragraphs
3.5 and 4.3 of the report:
a) work to more systematically evaluate and capture learning from the impact of Overview and Scrutiny activity generally across all Overview and Scrutiny Committees;
b) explore the potential for Overview and Scrutiny to develop a closer working relationship with the Council’s Communications Team with a view to more reporting and promotion of Overview and Scrutiny activity with a particular focus on the use of new digital technology and to consider the scope to improve the connection between Overview and Scrutiny and the public (for example by more use of the Citizen’s Panel);
c) explore the scope to draw more extensively on independent local experts
where appropriate in Overview and Scrutiny reviews (for example, the
Universities in Medway);
d) work with the Chief Legal Officer on the scope to require organisations
contracted or commissioned by the Council to provide goods and services to provide information and attend Overview and Scrutiny Committees on
e) work with the Chief Legal Officer to develop a framework for overview and
scrutiny of the performance of the Council’s commercial entities noting that the proposed starting point is a Member Development Session in the Autumn with the recently published Centre for Public Scrutiny guide scrutiny of risk and commercialisation as a point of reference as set out in agenda item 7;
f) consider how scrutiny of SELEP might be incorporated into the Medway
Overview and Scrutiny arrangements, noting that the Centre for Public
Scrutiny will be publishing guidance on scrutiny of LEPs later in the year, and;
g) ensure that all Members were able to easily access the new Statutory Guidance.