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