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Standards Report: problems with scrutiny and accountability
29-07-2010, 04:02 PM
Post: #1
RE: Standards Report: problems with scrutiny and accountability
Thanks for highlighting the publication of the report

Our Chair (Nick Raynsford) and our Executive Director (Jessica Crowe) gave evidence as part of the Committee's inquiry and so we are especially interested in the findings.

Our recent policy publication 'Accountability Works' picks up on many of the issues identified by the Committee.
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30-07-2010, 09:47 AM
Post: #2
RE: Standards Report: problems with scrutiny and accountability
Interesting to see the report but what is it really saying that we haven't known for 10 years-plus?

I'd argue that the collective experience of local authorities over a decade has established both the potential and the limitations of the system. It works as well as, collectively, we can make it work. The system had no proven track record which we have failed to live up to. It was an untested notion which its proponents "sold" to the government of the day. If you go back ato the claims made back then for how things would be, many of them were plain wrong, as ODPM's own research programme established (members spending less time in meetings; councillors more diverse in age, ethnicity and gender; more candidates wanting to stand ...)

Take this passage from the report:

"... there is little doubt that in practice in many local authorities the scrutiny function is not working as effectively as intended ... particularly ... where ... scrutiny committees have focussed more on policy development than on questioning or challenging decisions."

Well maybe that's because the system simply isn't well designed to achieve effective accountability - the executive holds so many of the best cards - but has proved good for policy review and development. If you want a means of really keeping tabs on the independently powerful individuals who make up an executive, maybe you need a different system from the one we have now. And maybe - sorry if this is a bit extreme - you should pilot it first.
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30-07-2010, 10:28 AM
Post: #3
RE: Standards Report: problems with scrutiny and accountability
Yes, this is the old "scrutiny is a lion that has failed to roar" argument trotted out by John Denham earlier this year and by many others too.

"Has potential, but is ineffective" is a convenient conclusion which fits the current narrative in local government circles. The implication is that decision-makers have been open to scrutiny, and by gosh we've tried to make it work, but there is just "something about it" that means that it has failed to live up to expectations.

And what were those expectations? Well, there weren't any. Members and officers were thrown into the deep end 10 years ago, having made structural changes to decision-making that nobody fully understood and many only put in place because they were forced to. In its early years (and still now, in many places) scrutiny has had to work against a culture of secrecy and obfuscation that goes back to the birth of local government itself. However dynamic you are, and however innovative, relevant and realistic your recommendations, you are not going to achieve anything if you have a recalcitrant executive, or partners who think that scrutiny should just "butt out". In many authorities, it seems to be almost dangerous to admit that - shock horror - sometimes the executive doesn't have all the answers.

That's not to say that scrutiny doesn't either. There is certainly no doubt that in the coming months scrutiny functions around the country are going to have to raise their game both in terms of challenging the executive, and improvement through policy development. But it takes two to tango, and in most cases the immovable object in the equation has been the executive, and its unwillingness to be truly open to scrutiny and local accountability.

This is a much more nuanced situation - and far less based on the "structure" of scrutiny - than those who criticise the effectiveness of the function nationwide would have us believe, but it's a view that we at CfPS and you as practitioners are going to have to work hard to persuade people of in the next few months.
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30-07-2010, 02:40 PM
Post: #4
RE: Standards Report: problems with scrutiny and accountability
I think, unfortunately, that the report's authors have misunderstood the statutory scrutiny officer function referred to in the second part of paragraph 15.

Firstly, the term "for each authority to have at least one post solely dedicated to support overview and scrutiny committees" is misleading, as the Act simply does not say that. More's the pity. Furthermore, it doesn't mention that the statutory scrutiny officer requirement applies only to upper tier authorities. Again, more's the pity.

I find it particularly frustrating that they have got his wrong, because taken out of context, it would appear that all Council's are now required to provide dedicated O&S support, which of course they're not, and they then go on to question the effectiveness of this requirement. Of course the question is irrelevant because the requirement isn't actually there in the first place if you get my meaning. I suppose there is consolation in a different section of the report going on to highlight the need for effective scrutiny support.

It might however still be intersesting to ask the question as to whether the statutory scrutiny officer requirement has actually made any positive difference anywhere? I suspect I may already know the answer to that.
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30-07-2010, 02:55 PM
Post: #5
RE: Standards Report: problems with scrutiny and accountability
Thanks Steve - somehow I'd missed that! It's a bit of a howler.

It could serve to undermine the central message of the report, which is a positive one, that the principles of scrutiny have a vital part to play in decision-making.
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30-07-2010, 03:01 PM
Post: #6
RE: Standards Report: problems with scrutiny and accountability
Ehammond Wrote:Thanks Steve - somehow I'd missed that! It's a bit of a howler.

It could serve to undermine the central message of the report, which is a positive one, that the principles of scrutiny have a vital part to play in decision-making.

Do we know who the report will be submitted to, i.e. who its main audience will be?
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03-08-2010, 09:43 PM
Post: #7
RE: Standards Report: problems with scrutiny and accountability
Take this passage from the report:
Quote:"... there is little doubt that in practice in many local authorities the scrutiny function is not working as effectively as intended ... particularly ... where ... scrutiny committees have focussed more on policy development than on questioning or challenging decisions."

In true scrutiny officer style, I'd like to see the evidence for this statement. Presumably there's appendices full of the stuff somewhere?.....

Worcestershire County Council
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04-08-2010, 09:34 AM
Post: #8
RE: Standards Report: problems with scrutiny and accountability
Lots of background information from the inquiry here:

http://www.public-standards.gov.uk/OurWo...eport.html
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