Article in First - Printable Version
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RE: Article in First - Dave Parkin - 23-08-2010 01:07 PM
I note that Hertfordshire have a lot of cabinet/executive type panels which appear to undertake a policy development role within the authority. The scrutiny side seems to concentrate on holding the executive to account on decisions already taken. This perhaps explains such a small scrutiny team
RE: Article in First - Steve Sienkiewicz - 24-08-2010 08:21 AM
Quote from the report:
"One of the factors in the budget scrutiny's success was keeping everyone well fed on Danish pastries, topped up with plenty of cups of coffee!"
Lets hope Eric Pickles doesn't read the article or scrutiny in Hertfordshire could end up going the same way as the Audit Commission!
RE: Article in First - Matthew Garrard - 24-08-2010 09:04 AM
Somewhere in there I can see some really good scrutiny, its just hiding behind lots of process that I would not necessarily flag up as excellent practice, but each to their own. It was an interesting choice by the CfPS judges to give an overall impact award to a nomination that does not demonstrate what the impact has been - and had not won its category.
RE: Article in First - Ed Hammond - 24-08-2010 10:23 AM
Well, yes - I know that you've said this to me before, Matt!
Although I wasn't involved in coming to the decision (he said, distancing himself) I think that Hertfordshire's entry does stand up in terms of impact. By streamlining their scrutiny function and focusing scrutiny's limited resources on things where scrutiny could demonstrably add value (and developing more flexible ways in which to carry out reviews) they have ensured that, across the board, they have been able to influence decisions and policies more than was possible previously. Now, any discussion of that will inevitably end up focusing on the methodology they used to achieve this because it is an award given for the work undertaken by the function as a whole rather than for a specific review. But this is to highlight how a new and more flexible approach to methodology has led to a greater impact for the function.
RE: Article in First - Nick Beale - 24-08-2010 11:14 AM
That does look like a good way to tackle budget scrutiny (although I wasn't clear at what stage scrutiny was getting involved, or - thank you Matt - what difference any of it had actually made).
For me, what's less convincing is this: "inquiries are now more focused and linked to the corporate plan, with a clear objective, a small number of questions to be addressed, desired outcomes specified, and constraints identified (in other words, areas that the scrutiny is not covering)." That may be making a virtue of your budgetary limitations but (lest we forget) scrutiny is supposed to be capable of considering any decision of the authority. If it has to follow a script then holding to account - which has never been the role's strong suit - is weakened and there may be places that policy development thinking doesn't venture into either.
It looks as if the "flexibility" they're commended for comes partly in how they now define an "investigation". If they are completing 25 a year then how far is any given topic actually explored and does scrutiny ever cause the the executive or officers any discomfort?
The figure of 50 people is mentioned for the "cafe" but it would be helpful to know what % of non-executive members took part in the other 24 reviews as well.
RE: Article in First - Paul James - 24-08-2010 03:15 PM
Some interesting scrutiny going on with a clear plan for how items are to be addressed. However I am curious concerning the statements there ar olny "two offciers supporting scrutiny in our large authority". and later in the article "we believe our scrutiny team is the smallest ina top tier authority". I am curious to know if the Scrutiny Team of two also undertake the Lead Offcier and Democratic Offcier work? or dont they count this as scrutiny as is the case in some other authorities.
RE: Article in First - Ed Hammond - 24-08-2010 04:56 PM
As far as I know, they're dedicated scrutiny support officers rather than twin-hatters.
I have asked Tom from Herts to post here to answer some of your questions.
RE: Article in First - Tom Hawkyard - 26-08-2010 03:13 PM
Some comments on the comments to date
There is a clear separation in Herts between scrutiny and policy. Put crudely if the county are thinking of doing it it's policy, if they've done it it's scrutiny so your interpretation is correct. I see scrutiny as being there to scrutinise decisions whereas alot of authorities use scrutiny to scrutinise possible decisions with the consequent involvement of the executive, something that was not originally envisaged when scrutiny came into being.
Yes we feed everyone at every meeting but for how much longer......
The way we work is very different to anyone else I've spoken with; there are upsides and downsides but crucially it suits Hertfordshire. Having discussed our processes with c 30 top tier authorities I've come across no one with processes as slick and the bulk of those who have spoken with me are envious of us for the processes we have. If you think you have something slicker/something we should n't do tell me and if I agree we'll stop doing it!
Our award was really for the processes, which presumably the judges felt did streamline scrutiny, otherwise we would n't have won. My recollection is ourselves and Torbay were shortlisted for changes to processes everyone else shortlisted had entered scrutinies.
I understand in 2009 the overall winner also did not win its category. I found that a little odd though it was interesting that the Innovation award was the last to be given prior to the main one which we won so we weren't disappointed for long. [section edited]
We cover a broad range of topics on a rolling programme. 75% of the scrutinies are done in one or two days the remainder take longer but again whole days are devoted to them. I'm of the view in the shorter scrutines we get to 80% of the issues ie the main issues. Shorter scrutinies also focus the mind in a way that when we did scrutinies over a number of months with meetings over a couple of hours or so it did n't. Members were prone to drift all over the place; they don't any longer. Members in Herts are also expected to do research into the topic they may be scrutinising. We have between 5 and 7 members on each topic group and you can reasonably assume at least 3 of them will have spent a good few hours preparing.
In our scrutinies it would be difficult to work out who is from which party. Members come at things from the angle of 'how do we improve things for the people of Hertfordshire' not 'how do we score points off the executive or other parties', which in my view gets scrutiny a bad name. I see our recommendations as being pragmatic and achievable rather than robust and unachievable. It is no good coming up with unachievable recommendations eg it may be desiable to employ another 50 Children's Social Workers but we have n't the money and they are n't out there anyway so it's a case of finding smarter ways to say the same rather than seeking to annoy the executive and chief officers with impractical recommendations.
A general point I would also make to everyone is around reports. Ours are very short focus on conclusions and recommendations. Over the last three years I've looked at a range of other reports on different Counties webpages. Even ones described as 'short' can be 50 pages with 30 recommendations. I cannot imagine anyone being prepared to read 50 pages and to ask people to implement 30 recommedations is unfair so I wonder what value many of them serve. Often what I would see as the key recommendations have got lost whilst others are n't recommendations, just conclusions.
Budget scrutiny. We used to have a two hour meeting at the end of the process that everyone agreed was a waste of time. In Feb 2010 a day was spent on it (along with many hours of preparation, alot more than I'd expected) and it was more effective in that members were able to come up with clearer recommedations and a better understanding of the process. For the 2011/12 budget we are starting the process this Autumn and members will be spending 3 days scrutinising the budget. I am happy to send anyone who is interested our documentation on it if you email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We have 77 members, 9 are in the cabinet. Our leader does not like the deputy exec members being on Topic Groups either, though 3 have been so effectively we have a pool of 59 members who could do scrutiny. Since the 2009 election we have had 7 who have not been involved so 52 have done at least one topic group.
We are not part of Democratic Services, though they provide support at meetings and we work closely with them; we are a standalone unit of 2. My view is we ought to be together though the Head of Democratic Services is not keen. (Scrutiny in Herts has a slightly different reporting line to Dem Services, also I earn c20k more than the Head of Dem Services. Scrutiny is much more the high profile role so there are some interesting dynamics there)
For each scrutiny either myself or Natalie is the Lead Officer along with a Lead Officer from the dept concerned, usually an AD who works under our guidance.
My definition of 'large' is based on the population of Herts of 1.1 million
I hope all this helps
RE: Article in First - Nick Beale - 27-08-2010 08:44 AM
Tom Hawkyard Wrote:I see scrutiny as being there to scrutinise decisions whereas a lot of authorities use scrutiny to scrutinise possible decisions with the consequent involvement of the executive, something that was not originally envisaged when scrutiny came into being.
Thanks for the additional comments Tom, but I'd have to take issue with you on that last bit. I was there when scrutiny came into being and the original guidance from DETR (as it then was) said:
"Overview and scrutiny committees have varied and powerful roles in: i. policy development and review; ii. publicly holding the executive to account; and iii. examining matters of wider local concern."
My reading of that is that two of the three roles originally envisaged for OSCs entailed lookng at what the executive and the council might possibly do.
RE: Article in First - Ed Hammond - 27-08-2010 01:44 PM
Thanks for your comments everyone (and to Tom for clarifying some of the issues around Hertfordshire)
I think that what this, and the awards, demonstrate is that there are a multiplicity of different ways of doing scrutiny. We all have very different political cultures in our authorities which have led to scrutiny being perceived in very different ways. Naturally there are going to be disagreements about what good scrutiny is under these circumstances, and we will have to recognise that we don't all have a monopoly on what we think of as best practice.