Local government scrutiny 2017/18 – annual scrutiny survey results

Posted on 22/05/2018 by Elena Konopelko.

Since 2003 we have been asking members and officers about the state of scrutiny in their authorities. Many a time results have been rather grim, with scrutiny impact considered to be quite low and scrutiny constraints to be too numerous. This year, however, we are excited to report that 2017/18 seems to be quite a positive one.

How do we know? Because a number of indicators this year’s scrutiny survey have changed for the better, for instance:

  • Scrutiny is perceived to have 4% more impact than last year;
  • Scrutiny function is thought to be 10% more accountable and transparent;
  • Over 71% rated internal relationships between scrutiny, Executive and officers as positive ones
  • Work programmes became more councillor-led and flexible, and
  • About 85% trust that scrutiny will improve or stay the same in the future.

An area of particular interest to us each year is what gets in the way of effective scrutiny happening – what are the main constraints. While a lack of resources has always been evident and was emphasised in each survey, this year, other issues were also prominent. In particular, lack of awareness of scrutiny benefits, political environment, and lack of prioritisation and scrutiny focus, along with lack of scrutiny buy-in and trust were among the top ones.

We can only hypothesise what prompted such changes in scrutiny perceptions. Perhaps, the CLG inquiry put scrutiny back into the limelight and prompted some self-reflection. Or maybe, attention from the Government gave scrutiny some recognition or raised members and officers hopes that scrutiny will gain more powers. Finally, the previous year snap elections might have changed scrutiny landscape. In our interviews, some local authorities reported a significant council turnover, with many new councillors having no previous experience in politics. These councillors may bring new methods of work along with enthusiasm about the function.

While some things improved, others stayed the same or deteriorated slightly. Unfortunately, politics is perceived to have a tremendous impact on scrutiny, even higher than last year. The level of understanding of scrutiny’s role and responsibilities is still quite low, and worse than the previous years. While more work programmes are developed by councillors and are flexible, a significant proportion of them are still either rigid or chaotic, and about 27% reported that their work programmes are officer-led or led by Executive priorities. It is also quite sad to see so many members and officers (over 10% of respondents) raising the issues that scrutiny does not have enough support from the Executive, is not trusted within council, and has difficulty accessing relevant information.

For data and analysis, you can see the deck below and you can also download a one-page infographics. The results are also informing our training and events offering over coming months. In addition to that, in the next two months we would be writing a series of blogpost expanding on some of the results. In particular, we would be discussing the technical aspects of scrutiny and the cultural change that needs to take place to ensure scrutiny’s improvement.

If you have any questions about the survey, please contact: Ed Hammond or Elena Konopelko

About the Author: Elena Konopelko

Elena was CfGS's Policy and Research Coordinator. She provided policy support and research oversight on CfGS’s primary areas of interest. Elena provided additional expertise to assist with the delivery of consultancy projects and supports business development work through the management of information. Elena left CfGS in 2018.