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.