We have just published the findings of a longitudinal analysis of seven years’ of annual survey data. CfPS’s Annual Survey has, since 2004, provided the definitive picture of overview and scrutiny in local government. This analysis draws that data out, looking for key trends and identifying opportunities and challenges for the future.
The report points out that resources for local scrutiny functions are reducing at the very time when scrutiny committees (now in their tenth year) are demonstrating real value and impact. Across England and Wales 80% of scrutiny committee recommendations are being accepted – the highest ever level. To read and find out more details available here.
Despite evidence that, overall, scrutiny has teeth the report highlights a continuing struggle for non-executive councillors to influence council budgets through their scrutiny role - an area which is more important than ever when councils are having to make difficult choices about spending priorities.
The main findings of the report are:
- The discretionary budget for the scrutiny function has been declining year on year since well before the financial crisis, although the number of reviews carried out annually and the engagement of councillors has been increasing, demonstrating that scrutiny functions are contributing to greater local government efficiency;
- Scrutiny’s impact is clearly substantial, with general trends of 80% of recommendations being accepted and 70% being implemented, year on year;
- Areas where scrutiny practitioners feel least well-equipped to effectively carry out their work relate to finance and partnership issues – arguably two of the most critical areas for the short-term future in local government;
- Scrutiny was seen as being most effective, over the last few years, in policy development – health scrutiny was also seen as a strength;
- A maturing scrutiny function across the country is evident in findings that show councillors taking on more responsibility, with a clearer demarcation of member-officer roles and increased confidence amongst backbench members to lead and own scrutiny;
- Scrutiny is a self-critical function, with a variety of tools being used to consistently challenge and review scrutiny practices, although the use of more in-depth reviews to do his has declined (possibly due to resourcing constraints).
The Guardian have covered the research here
and there is a short piece in the printed edition of Local Government Chronicle 23 February 2012.