The art of scrutiny politics

Posted on 06/03/2018 by Centre for Governance and Scrutiny.

A series of workshops for council officers

“We are concerned that in too many councils, supporting the executive is the over-riding priority, with little regard for the scrutiny function.”


Parliamentary Select Committee on Scrutiny in Local Government, 2017

Member-led scrutiny is fundamental to how councils work. Officers at executive and manager level need to support scrutiny, just as they serve the cabinet. But failure to understand the subtle dynamics of scrutiny’s purpose and how it works can lead to poor engagement. The result is frustration and friction. 

Officers need to learn the soft skills of scrutiny politics and to find ways to wear two hats that are equally impartial, to find ways to assist scrutiny to access the widest and best sources of evidence and witnesses without tipping the balance. It is essential that officers and managers get this balance right if member-led scrutiny is to succeed.

Success leads to more effective and efficient scrutiny which benefits the organisation and members’ can see the impact of their work.

The council officers guide to scrutiny.

We will help officers to get up to speed through a series of in-house workshops designed to help middle and senior managers to understand the dynamics of council scrutiny and crucially how to satisfy the competing demands of cabinet and scrutiny.

Who should attend

  • Officers who support both executive/cabinet and scrutiny
  • Officers new to local government or new to scrutiny
  • Middle and senior managers who want to improve scrutiny
  • Officers who need insight into how scrutiny functions, and the dynamics of the politics

Workshop 1 – political skills: an introduction

An intermediate-level introduction to the political systems and structures of a typical council. This will introduce not only the formal legal structures that underpin politically-led decision-making in the authority, but some of the less tangible factors relating to political and organisational culture, behaviours, attitudes and values. An understanding of these cultural factors is vital to being able to operate successfully in a political environment as an officer.

Workshop 2 – political skills and commercialisation

The support members need and expect is changing as councils are becoming more commercial. How can officers help members to understand – and constructively challenge – some of the big strategic risks and opportunities associated with these ventures? Ensuring transparency and accountability in council commercial ventures.

Workshop 3 – political skills and commissioning

Helping officers to engage with members about the most productive methods of scrutiny of commissioning and  alternative delivery models. How to advise members to avoid ineffective scrutiny mechanisms that attempt to micro-manage performance, instead keeping keeping them focused on outcomes and benefits.

For more information about this or other CfGS consultancy and training products contact CfGS on 020 3866 5100  |


About the Author:

CfGS is a national centre of expertise on governance and scrutiny. We provide consultancy and training to organisations from the public, private and voluntary sectors. We’re a charity with a unique focus on the principles of accountability, transparency and involvement.