CfGS Annual Survey of Overview and Scrutiny in Local Government – 2023-24

Posted on 31/05/2024 by Pandora Ellis.

We’re delighted to publish the results of our Annual Scrutiny Survey 2023-24 and share key findings from the insight you provided. One of the joys of working at CfGS is learning about the diverse approaches to scrutiny practice employed by practitioners nationwide. We encounter a range of innovations, nuances, and unique local strategies addressing similar challenges.

Our Annual Survey serves as a key resource, consolidating these commonalities and differences into a single, convenient reference point for your practice. In our latest iteration, we heard from an amazing 229 people from 113 Councils. Thank you to everyone who took the time to respond. Unsurprisingly we heard from many councils who are facing financial challenges with many looking to scrutiny to help navigate difficult decisions and many of the approaches to scrutiny are similar to other years, but as ever there are some interesting headlines. 

Starting with organisation, we see similar results to previous years and interestingly, responses to the effectiveness of scrutiny public engagement are split, with half agreeing or strongly agreeing that their Scrutiny function works hard to involve and engage the public, with the other half disagreeing. It is positive to see that two thirds of respondents do receive information that is requested in a timely manner but concerning that there is still a third that do not. 

Ultimately, it is effective relationships that makes for the most effective scrutiny, and responses continue to be mixed when we ask about scrutiny’s relationship with the executive. However, an overwhelming majority (slightly over three quarters) do feel that senior officers are supportive of scrutiny’s work – and a similar majority consider that scrutiny is able to take a cross-party approach to its work. 
 
Ways of working continue to look fairly stable this year. There continues to be a gentle increase in the number of councils with executive-scrutiny protocols in place. Information about council performance is still regularly shared with councillors in the vast majority of councils, but we know anecdotally that quite a lot of this involves the sharing of scorecards in committee, which we have argued is not an especially effective way to share this data. In a more general sense, most respondents said that scrutiny did not face difficulty in getting hold of information – although a substantial minority did experience these problems. 

Recommendations that scrutiny make tend to be accepted. Monitoring of recommendations is a formal process in just over half of councils responding. We haven’t looked in this exercise at the quality of recommendations. 

It continues to be the case that the most common chairing arrangements are those in which the majority party holds all of the chair and vice chair positions. We are interested, though, to see a gradual increase in the numbers of authorities where positions are partly, or wholly, held by opposition parties.  

Awareness of council finances continues to dominate thinking on scrutiny’s priorities. We have noted in previous surveys an increase in focus on financial matters in the past five years – this year, just over three quarters of respondents thought that scrutiny’s work was closely informed by an understanding of the council’s financial position. 

Download the Annual Scrutiny Survey Results Report