Public scrutiny is an essential part of ensuring that government remains effective and accountable. Public scrutiny can be defined as the activity by one elected or appointed organisation or office examining and monitoring all or part of the activity of a public sector body with the aim of improving the quality of public services. A public sector body is one that carries out public functions or spends public money. Scrutiny ensures that executives are held accountable for their decisions, that their decision-making process is clear and accessible to the public and that there are opportunities for the public and their representatives to influence and improve public policy.
Public scrutiny is now moving into another era with community-led scrutiny of local decisions. This is where the public’s involvement in challenging local authorities and public service providers on public service improvement and delivery is actively sought by elected representatives (such as MPs or councillors) or appointed non-executives on governing bodies (such as school governors or non-executive directors of hospital trusts). Constructive and ongoing engagement with stakeholders, from experts to the general public, helps to achieve genuine accountability for the use of public resources.
Public scrutiny therefore provides a unique perspective on how well public services are being delivered and how they could be improved, from the point of view of those receiving and using those services. This section contains information on the range of bodies engaged in public scrutiny and includes bodies that scrutinise executive government at the central, devolved and local government levels as well as those that inspect and scrutinise distinct public policy areas: criminal justice, education, health and social care, housing and regeneration, public transport and public utilities.
This section is not intended to provide an exhaustive description of accountability arrangements across the public sector, nor should it be used as an exclusive source of information on any subject. If you wish to make use of any of the systems or processes mentioned, we advise you to contact your nearest Citizen's Advice Bureau or local law centre.