Elected chairs for scrutiny

Posted on November 2, 2018 by Ed Hammond. Tags:

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One of the Communities and Local Government Select Committee’s recommendations on overview and scrutiny last year was that we should pilot arrangements for the election of overview and scrutiny chairs.

The Committee was intrigued by the idea of bringing in a secret ballot for chair elections – presumably because of the positive experience of these elections in Parliament. Introduced following the adoption of the so-called Wright Reforms in 2010, select committee chair elections (amongst other changes) have been seen as instrumental in making select committee more vital and vigorous as they hold Government to account.

We’re similarly keen to support councils which might want to pilot these arrangements. It’s worth saying that we are not blessed with huge resources so don’t want to over-egg such a piloting exercise. But we are looking for one or two councils who might be prepared to give it a go for the municipal year 2019-20.

What we have in mind is something like the following:

  • Designing what the prospective outcomes of elections might be – we will think about how we would know that those elections had resulted in better chairing and better scrutiny;
  • Designing an election process which can be deployed next May, that meets expectations and which complies with the law and councils’ constitutions;
  • Interviewing a range of people in the piloting authorities before elections (to get a baseline of how scrutiny works), and then throughout the pilot to get a sense of how arrangements progress, then evaluating this against the outcomes established at the beginning.

We have in mind a relatively light touch process; we won’t be producing a detailed report at the end but will of course share the main lessons, to provide a guide for other councils who might want to give it a try.

For councils taking part there would of course be a resource implication – additional work would be necessary around council AGM to “manage” an election process, for a start.

If you’re interested (or if you just want to find out more), please get in touch. We’re planning to write an update letter to Clive Betts, the Chair of the select committee, in the coming weeks to update him on our progress in acting on the committee’s recommendations, and it would be good when doing so to provide the assurance that this work is under way.

About the Author: Ed Hammond

Ed leads CfPS's work on devolution, transformation and on support to councils and other public bodies on governance and accountability.