RE: Scrutiny work programmes and Cabinet Forward Plans
Hi Phil - a lot hinges on the actual quality of the Forward Plan (and do note that the law on FPs is changing, further to recent DCLG regulations).
Many are, frankly, pretty useless and it would be dangerous for scrutiny to think that they set out a clear picture of what's important to the executive. If you have a corporate project programme (which I assume you do) this will be far more valuable as something to hang the work programme off.
Such programmes are usually long-term in nature (three or four years, sometimes, taking an authority through an entire electoral term) but will have a certain amount of inbuilt flexibility. There is the risk that they are launched early in the life of an administration with great fanfare, only to be slowly and quietly ignored six to nine months later - again, if this is the case, best not to engage with it!
If it is actually used, and provides an accurate picture of what the council is doing, the scrutiny WP should naturally in part reflect it - not slavishly, but it should be possible to identify key points in the programme where scrutiny's input would be useful. Inevitably, discussions with chief officers will help to tease this out. This will then make it easier to target work - the idea being that scrutiny is looking at executive activity when policies and plans are being developed rather than when a decision is a done deal.
This is easier said than done, and I'm not aware of any councils that have consistently tried doing this - or, if they've done it, whether it's been successful. It might sound nice in theory, but I expect that practical difficulties around liaison with service departments, and the need for both scrutiny and the exec to keep to the programme, might make it difficult to achieve.
Our publication on work programming from last year ("A cunning plan") goes into some of these issues in a little more detail.
Research and Information Manager, CfPS