Posted by: westlancashirerecord | June 6, 2017

Local Government Scrutiny Being Scrutinised

There are three main reasons that local government scrutiny is felt by many to lack impact , being a perception that it exists to rubber-stamp cabinet decisions, fails to address pressing issues, and ignores the public.

Those findings have come from the Centre for Public Scrutiny  (CfPS)’s 2017 perceptions survey. CfPS exists to promote and support organisations to be more open to scrutiny and involve others in decision-making. To achieve this, governance frameworks need to work from an external, as well as internal, perspective. This also found that overall confidence in scrutiny’s ability to make an impact was down by 8.5% on the 2016 survey.

The greatest constraints on successful scrutiny were under resourcing, cited by 53% of respondents, internal culture, mentioned by 41%, and lack of skills (15%). Responses showed that 74% of people thought party politics affected scrutiny, though 76% thought scrutiny’s role was understood.

Two factors found to be common in successful scrutiny operations were focusing on priorities and fostering a culture where challenge is valued.The more positive this culture the more scrutiny was valued although 39% of respondents felt cabinet members were broadly negative about the role of scrutinisers. Scrutiny was imposed on all but the smallest councils as part of the reforms of the Local Government Act 2000, which introduced the cabinet system.

The Communities and Local Government select committee had, before the general election was called, launched an inquiry into the effectiveness of scrutiny in councils. CfPS is an independent charity that seeks to promote the use of scrutiny in public services.

CfPS is also campaigning for a Freedom of Information (Contractor) Bill [click to read]. The contracting out of public authority functions weakens the public’s rights to information. Any information which the public authority holds about a contract will be subject to FOI. So will information which the contractor holds on the authority’s behalf. (This is usually information which the contract itself requires to be kept.) But other information about the contract or the contractor’s ability to perform will not be available. Internal discussion which reveals why a decision which affects the contracted service was taken will usually not be covered. The kind of information which has been withheld from the public as a result of this loophole includes information about the number of attacks at privately run prisons, whistleblowing policies of NHS contractors, incentives to issue parking tickets, the cost of TV licensing prosecutions, swimming pool closures and penalty fares on the London Overground. No doubt we can all think of many more, such as the Serco leisure services contracts for WLBC!

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