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Government must encourage council scrutiny ‘culture change’

The government has to encourage a culture change within local councils in order to improve the quality of overview and scrutiny plans.

The Communities and Local Government Commons Select Committee found that scrutiny is not always independent of the executive, and this could stop councils improving the quality of services.

Following a review, the committee produced a report saying that systems meant to scrutinise the performance of services are not held in high enough esteem – leading to a lack of constructive challenge to improve services for residents.

The report recommends that overview and scrutiny committees should report to an authority’s full council rather than just the executive.

It also says that the groups should be distinct from any executive, with them able to give evidence as witnesses but not sit on the committee itself.

In addition, the committee recommended that overview groups in local authorities should also have a role in monitoring the performance of LEPs and that central government commits more funding to the scrutiny of mayoral combined authorities.

“Scrutiny is marginalised at too many local authorities, which in extreme cases can contribute to severe service failures, letting down council taxpayers and those that rely on services,” commented Clive Betts, chair of the Communities and Local Government Committee.

“Scrutiny of those in power is a vital part of any democratic system and has huge benefits for all. We are calling on the government to strengthen guidance to make overview and scrutiny committees truly independent of those they are charged with holding to account and to make sure the process is properly funded and respected.

“Only by rebalancing the system and ensuring scrutiny is held in high esteem will we see better decisions and the outcomes that residents who pay for council services deserve.”

The select committee also said scrutiny groups should have access to financial and performance data held by the council and that members of the public and service users should have a greater say in any recommendations.

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Mike Carr   15/12/2017 at 14:34

The independence of Scrutiny would be much improved if the government made local authorities elect their scrutiny panels by secret ballot and alternative vote as they do for parliamentary select committees.

Brian   18/12/2017 at 17:26

Executive committees more often than not make decisions based on politics rather than actual evidence. Scrutiny committees should be compelled to listen to hard evidence and have the power to reverse decisions. There should be a system of penalties for failure if it is necessary to follow up with legal proceedings.

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