The scrutiny improvement review (SIR)

An independent evaluation and improvement programme for your scrutiny function

In 2019 Government published statutory guidance on overview and scrutiny in local government. Are you doing all you can to take advantage of the opportunity to ensure that scrutiny plays a vital, central role in the life of the authority and the wider community?

Councils face unprecedented challenges – financial, demographic and political. The pandemic, the cost of living crisis and other pressures mean that the way ahead is uncertain. What we do know is that we are going to have to radically transform the way we work. Moves to design and deliver services in radically different ways could provide us with solutions to some of our challenges – but we will need to make sure that governance and oversight keeps up with this innovation.

CfGS can help you to do this, with our scrutiny improvement review (SIR).

The SIR is an evolution of a range of tried and tested tools for the evaluation and review of scrutiny which CfGS has developed since 2003. It is carried out through a combination of:

  • council self-evaluation, carried out with the help of the CfGS scrutiny self-evaluation framework,
  • CfGS expert review of documentation,
  • evidence and assessment – interviews, surveys and member/officer input
  • a study of scrutiny’s role and integration in the council
  • observation of meetings and
  • through the joint development of a realistic action plan.

CfGS has developed a rigorous methodology and process to assess the impact and value of council scrutiny – reflecting the support that scrutiny councillors and members have told us they would benefit from and the pressing challenges that councils are facing across the board.

The SIR involves CfGS experts working alongside you to recognise best practice and where scrutiny is adding value, identify improvements, and helping you to implement what you decide to do. It is based on a clear, consistent and transparent framework which has some flexibility to deal with councils’ particular needs. We’re supported over two dozen councils to use the framework to explore scrutiny’s capabilities and opportunities for improvement. In 2021, we published a summary of some of the key findings from many of these pieces of work, which you can download here

CfGS staff and the consultants with whom we work bring a variety of perspectives and insights, and huge experience. We have carried out similar review and evaluation exercises for dozens of councils.

The focus

The SIR focuses on the following four principal themes.

  1. Organisational commitment and clarity of purpose
  2. Members leading and fostering good relationships
  3. Prioritising work and using evidence well
  4. Having an impact and value

Based on your needs, we can refine the focus between these four themes. The framework gives us significant freedom to adopt an approach that will work for you, giving you the confidence that you are benefiting from bespoke support which still benefits from a solid, consistent foundation.  

Once the review is complete and you are taking steps to implement what we have agreed, CfGS can make a further follow-up visit some time later, to assure you of your progress and provide you with additional support. 

How it works

  • Think about your needs. Might this be right for you? Even if you don’t think you need a full improvement review, there’s undoubtedly a way that we can help you – either formally or informally;
  • A discussion with a senior member of CfGS will help you to find clarity about whether the SIR is the right approach for you;
  • If you decide you want to move forward, we’ll talk to a leading officer and a leading member in scrutiny about your requirements – to ensure that our approach is framed to meet your needs;
  • We will produce a proposal based on this conversation which will reflect what we understand of the situation and the council’s context, identifying possible resources to be used, and timescales;
  • If you decide to proceed on the basis of the proposal, we’ll design an evidence-gathering schedule to fit around your needs – we can be highly flexible on timescales;
  • As evidence gathering draws to a conclusion, we will share emerging findings with you, and work with you to jointly develop actions.

The SIR is not about presenting you with a finished report and recommendations, and then walking away. We want to have a continuing relationship with councils who go through this process, which begins with the joint preparation of an action plan which you feel that you can own, and which you feel is deliverable.

For more information and to talk over your needs, please contact Ian Parry or Ed Hammond