BLOG: New version of scrutiny guidance 

Posted on 29/05/2024 by Pandora Ellis.

Ed Hammond – Deputy Chief Executive, CfGS

You will probably have seen by now that Government has recently published a new version of the statutory guidance on overview and scrutiny, intended for local and combined authorities in England.  

There are very few changes between the original and revised versions. The main focus of those changes lies in ensuring that the evolution of policy and practice in respect of scrutiny in combined authorities is reflected in the guidance. Colleagues in combined authorities will be aware that they now need to have regard to the “Scrutiny Protocol”, a supplementary document that sets out some further Government expectations on how overview and scrutiny arrangements should be organised at CA level.  

The Scrutiny Protocol is not “part” of the statutory guidance, and as such authorities do not legally have to “have regard” to it. However, adherence to the Protocol is an important part of Government’s assessment of whether areas should benefit from deeper devolution deals, which makes is functionally compulsory for those areas – something which the revised statutory guidance reinforces.  

There are two things which this revision highlights – both things on which CfGS aims to conduct further work this year.  

The first thing is the need for further thinking on joint scrutiny. There is an expectation that combined authorities will need to be work closely with their constituent authorities on mutually important scrutiny matters. While we are not talking here about the establishment of formal joint committees, some form of closer working feels inevitable. This year, CfGS is planning work to explore with two cohorts of authorities how we might pursue approaches to joint working that are practical and proportionate.  

The second thing is the necessary focus on economic development. The responsibilities previously held by LEPs have been folded into local government, in areas where combined authorities do not yet exist. LEP scrutiny was something that Government, and others, grappled with in recent years. Although some of the focus of this need feels less urgent in an environment where LEPs’ duties fall under direct democratic control, there is still going to be a need for scrutiny to think about how it engages with wider, and long-term, development and infrastructure priorities. One component of this is the establishment of development corporations – an issue where questions have been raised about democratic oversight. On this point, too, we are planning work in the coming months.  

This is all contextualised by the fact that we are mere months away from a General Election. Whichever party wins, we are likely to see a continued focus on economic development and a commitment to sub-regional arrangements like combined authorities as the primary delivery mechanism for those priorities. The two issues highlighted above are likely, therefore, to remain pertinent even if there is a change in Government.  

Although there is little change in the national expectations on how scrutiny ought to be organised, as the local government landscape evolves, we are in the early stages of a refresh of our core guidance material. At the moment this can be found in our 2019 publication, “The good scrutiny guide”, which was produced following the publication of the statutory guidance. We are now developing new material that will replace this – supporting you to identify and take action on the challenges that are likely to face scrutiny in local government now and in the future.