Members are asked to review the work conducted throughout 2018/19 – Lessons learnt, improvements and achievements
Attached are suggested considerations and lists of topics and Information Bulletins for 2018/19 for each Council.
75.1 The Chair began by outlining the purpose of the review and invited Councillor Nick Gowrley to contribute to the review in his role as Leader of the Mid Suffolk Council.
75.2 Councillor Gowrley said the role of scrutiny was vitally important and that he was grateful for the work the Committee had conducted during the past year. Since the Cabinet system had been introduced scrutiny had provided a valuable function for the decision-making process and had provided Cabinet with some significant success including scrutiny of the Disabled Facilities Grant, voids and Babergh and Mid Suffolk Building Service.
75.3 The Assistant Director for Housing provided his personal reflection on the Committee’s work in relation to housing issues. He felt that there had been a change in attitude amongst officers towards scrutiny. The Overview and Scrutiny Committee had instigated this change by showing officers how the Committee could provide support by enabling an on-going conversation between officers and Members. The work of the Committee was an attitude of ‘let’s work together’.
75.4 The best way forward for the work of the Committee was to provide examples of how overview and scrutiny could help by provided value to projects and work undertaken for the Council. Promotion of the benefits of scrutiny to officers would also be helpful.
75.5 The Corporate Manager for Housing Solutions based her review of the reports for the Homelessness Reduction Act and voids. She felt that the two Chairs’ briefings were very beneficial, as officers could have an informal discussion about reports. It was good for officers to know what the Committee was expecting and to be able to discuss the topic in detail before writing the report. Historically, scrutiny was considered as a negative experience, but now it could be a positive one and supportive.
75.6 Councillor Gowrley believed that it was the role of scrutiny as ‘a critical friend’ which had changed the officers’ mindset.
75.7 Councillor Gibson-Harries said that Members brought the voice of the community to the committee and to the officers who attended.
75.8 In response to other Members questions, Councillor Caston stated that it was not appropriate for officers to provide any suggestion on how the Committee could improve scrutiny as it was important that scrutiny remained individual and separate. He felt that currently reports were responding to the demand of the committee.
75.9 Councillor Field thought that the if reports were open, honest and had the right level of detail it would be enable the Committee to conduct proper scrutiny.
75.10 The Assistant Director for Housing added that the Chairs’ briefings had been really helpful to improve the quality of reports. A well written report would improve the quality of the debate at committee. He added that the Information Bulletins were also very helpful and could maintain focus on on-going topics.
75.11 Members agreed that there been good cross-party challenges and that the Chairs had encouraged good quality scrutiny.
75.12 Councillor Welsby stated that he was not comfortable with the pre-committee meetings, as he felt there was a risk of debating topics before the committee.
75.13 Members did not agree on the usefulness of pre-committee meetings and the Corporate Manager for Democratic Services informed Members that the pre-committee meetings were for the Committee to establish the line of questioning to ensure a cohesive debate.
75.14 Councillor McCraw reminded Members that pre-committee meetings were recommended at the scrutiny training sessions earlier in the year.
75.15 Some Members felt that pre-committee meetings were useful for the Chair to manage complicated lines of questioning and inform Members of witnesses who would be addressing the Committee.
75.16 Members agreed that the use of witnesses had improved the scrutiny process and that the Witnesses had been appropriate for the topics they were invited to, especially for Community Infrastructure Levy and West Suffolk Community Safety Partnership.
75.17 The working relationship with Cabinet Members had improved and generally Cabinet Members attended Committees to introduce reports and to respond to questions.
75.18 Councillor Gowrley informed the Committee that recommendations received from the Overview and Scrutiny Committee were useful and most of them had been taken into consideration in the decision- making process. He suggested that a quarterly report be produced to follow up on the recommendations to Cabinet and if they had been implemented.
75.19 Members discussed training and all agreed that the training received both from the Centre for Public Scrutiny and internal training had been beneficial and informative. Internal training would be provided at the first committee and throughout the year.
75.20 Working groups was thought to be effective.
75.21 Scoping was mostly conducted at the Chairs’ briefings but was occasionally undertaken at committees.
75.22 Members agreed that the length of committee meetings should be no longer than 2.5 to 3 hours long.
75.23 The Forthcoming Decisions List was essential for planning the workplan.
75.24 The Scrutiny Chairs always attended Cabinet meetings and both they and Cabinet found this good working practice. Chairs had also provided written reports to Council meetings and been prepared to answer questions.
75.25 Members discussed the possible recommendation to the future Overview and Scrutiny Committee, and it was agreed that the minutes and Annual Report should be provided to the incoming Committee.
By 11 votes to 1
It was RESOLVED: -
That the minute from the Review of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee and the accompanying Annual Report for each Council be provided to the incoming Members of the new Overview and Scrutiny Committee