Our full submission to the CLG scrutiny inquiry

Posted on 21/03/2017 by Jacqui McKinlay.

Jacqui McKinlay, CfGS Chief Executive, summarises our submission to the Communities and Local Government (CLG) committee.

As you would hope, at the Centre for Governance and Scrutiny we care about scrutiny in local government. Involving others leads to better decisions – improving lives and places. We therefore leapt at the chance to contribute to the CLG select committee on overview and scrutiny. Seeing it as an opportunity to add our voice to those of council scrutineers  and share our experiences and views on what needs to change.  

So in twenty-five pages (sorry… there was a lot to say) we have provided our formal submission. Whilst it’s a readable, straight-forward document that you could get through in ten minutes (which you can download here), the three themes of our feedback were:

  • Getting buy-in from across the organisation to scrutiny’s role is not guaranteed, but is crucial to scrutiny’s success.
  • Local government is changing and scrutiny is having to change with it. For many this reflects a challenge over resources. In fact, this challenge is more likely to relate to the need to prioritise more effectively.
  • Scrutiny has had a clear and demonstrable impact in many areas and on many issues, but evaluating impact more consistently on a national basis has proven difficult.

Government can do some things to help but ultimately making overview and scrutiny work is a matter for local councils. The right to shape scrutiny to meet local need and context is something we should fight to keep. We have, however, made a range of recommendations, including these five:

  1. Support for councils to pilot and put in place different arrangements for the nomination and appointment of chairs to reflect the council’s political proportionality.
  2. Support for governance and scrutiny peer reviews (complementing the LGA’s existing “corporate peer challenge” offer).
  3. An increased national focus on accountability at local level – in particular the operation of scrutiny as a “system-wide” function.
  4. Support for further research to attempt to develop models to meaningfully evaluate scrutiny’s impact, locally and nationally.
  5. Simplification of the legislation on overview and scrutiny to give scrutiny powers to follow the “council pound”.

 The reasoning behind these recommendations can be found in the detail of our submission. We are extremely fortunate to come across examples of great scrutiny practice every day and spend time with the excellent councillors and officers who make a real difference. We are proud to have played a part in providing consultancy, training, policy support and networking opportunities to many people and organisations over the years.

Scrutiny is a vital part of the democratic process but it needs support, buy-in and resource to make it work. Everyone benefits when it does. For us that’s a no brainer.


About the Author: Jacqui McKinlay

Jacqui was Chief Executive of the Centre for Governance and Scrutiny from 2015 until 2021.