To provide the Governance and Audit Committee with an update on the content of the short scrutiny improvement review carried out by the Centre for Governance and Scrutiny, together with an action plan which addresses the recommendations included as part of the feedback letter.
In 2021 the Council commissioned the Centre for Governance and Scrutiny to undertake an evaluation of its scrutiny function to check and test that scrutiny arrangements met the Council’s high expectations of democratic accountability and that decision-making and scrutiny was transparent, effective and impactful.
The review consisted of two days of evidence gathering on-site through conversations with Members and Officers on 19 and 20 July 2021, as well as consideration of key documents and the observation of an Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting.
The opening summary of findings from the review highlighted conditions for successful scrutiny were present at South Kesteven District Council with a clear commitment to scrutiny and the value it can bring, the benefits of which were recognised by Cabinet. The dedication of Members of Overview and Scrutiny Committees, positive examples of cross-party working, making a positive impact and wanting to improve outcomes was also emphasised.
The outcomes of the review were reported under the following themes, some of which included recommendations for further consideration which the Panel feel would assist scrutiny in being more effective in how it works and the contribution it makes:
• Conditions for success
• Organisation and Officer support
• Clarity and scrutiny’s role and responsibilities
• Collaborative approach to scrutiny
• Scrutiny’s focus and work programme
• Committee structure
• Chairing and meeting preparation
• Member development
• External engagement
In considering the recommendations of the review, an action plan had been developed by the Cabinet Member for Corporate Governance and Licensing.
Members raised the following points during discussion:
· How did the recommendations translate to the action plan?
· The review has taken too long to come to a public meeting
· Who would be considering the advice given, in particular the governance and scrutiny?
· The delay brought transparency, openness and scrutiny of the Council into question.
· Will there be a change in process of how the Chairman and Vice-Chairman of each Committee were elected as recommended?
· The process did not involve an adequate level of consultation or clarification on timings for the action plan
· Why did the report only outline the positives? Scrutiny should involve an equal voice for all, including the general public.
· A Member suggested that the actions could be measurable as SMART targets and should reflect the report.
The Deputy Chief Executive informed the Committee that the ‘next steps’ identified in the action plan came from the advice given by the Centre for Governance and Scrutiny. The suggestions were broad, not specific and it was down to the Council to decide how to act. It was recognised that there was still work to do and Members and Officers have worked alongside each other to achieve a plan.
The Officer continued that changes to any committee are constitutional and will go to the Constitution Committee. The Companies Committee proposed changes would be heard by Governance and Audit Committee before ultimately being heard at Full Council.
The Chairman disagreed that scrutiny and consultation was not welcomed within the process of the review and confirmed meetings had been held throughout the process.
The Deputy Chief Executive added that everyone had an opportunity to meet with Officers and Councillor Linda Wootten as the Cabinet Member for Corporate Governance. There were workshops held for discussion and feedback was important. The consultation process was yet to be completed.
The Chairman welcomed the report and acknowledged that the Council were at the start of the process. It was suggested that a workshop for Members be arranged before a future Governance and Audit Committee hears a more detailed action plan. Members agreed with this.
That a public workshop for Members is arranged to agree action plans and targets in further detail.
It was proposed, seconded, and AGREED:
That the Governance and Audit Committee noted the Scrutiny Improvement Review Action Plan.