What is scrutiny?
All Councils in England and Wales should have at least one Scrutiny committee. Scrutiny allows Councillors who are not part of the Council's main decision making body (known in Eden as the 'Executive') to review the decisions of the Council. Scrutiny allows members to act as a 'watch-dog' or a 'critical friend' within the local authority. This helps to make the decision making process clear and transparent to the public.
Scrutiny committees can:
- Hold the executive to account
- Hold other agencies, including local partners, to account for the way that services are run in Eden
- Make sure the council is performing well
- Contribute to policy making
Scrutiny can also carry out reviews and make reports and recommendations which help advise the Executive and the Council about policies, budget and service delivery.
We have six Councillors who form the Executive, they are responsible for taking the majority of decisions. The remaining 32 Councillors are known as non-executive or back bench Councillors. These Councillors are involved in scrutinising the work of the Executive. The members are nominated on to two committees and a Co-ordinating Board. Different political groups are reflected proportionally to reflect the political balance of the Council. The two committees meet quarterly and a Co-ordinating Board meets every two months:
Scrutiny Coordinating Board is responsible for co-ordinating the topics being reviewed by the two committees (the work programme). The Co-ordinating Board undertakes cross cutting reviews (topics that cover more than one remit) and the Budget. It also monitors the Council Plan (our priorities for service provision in the district) and is responsible for scrutinising performance.
Environment and Economy Committee covers transport, environmental health, waste and recycling, economic development, tourism and planning.
Housing and Community Committee covers affordable housing, homelessness, cultural services and community safety. This is also the Council's statutory Crime and Disorder Panel.
Members of the public are welcome to attend these scrutiny committee meetings.
What are scrutiny reviews?
Scrutiny reviews are time limited projects that look at issues in detail.
Are there different levels of scrutiny reviews?
Yes, there are three main levels of scrutiny reviews:
- an in-depth review or long review which involves a small review group nominated by the Co-ordinating Board or Scrutiny Committee. The Board or Committee also outline the Terms of Reference for the review
- a medium review which comprises of up to four nominated Councillors to undertake a review comprising of two to three meetings; and
- a bite sized review where a single topic is discussed in a meeting.
In depth scrutiny reviews (long reviews)
In-depth reviews will use a full range of Scrutiny research methods including benchmarking, research, consultation, and visits, along with at least one contributor session or focus group. This type of review is usually carried out by a nominated selection of usually 5-6 Members of Committee members (known as the 'review group') who undertake the review on behalf of the Committee/Board.
By gathering such a wide range of information on a particular issue, the scrutiny members can ensure that any recommendations are evidence based.
After considering all the evidence the Scrutiny group has collated, the group agrees its conclusions and produces a report making recommendations. This is then presented to the full Committee for approval before being submitted to the Executive or Council for their consideration and implementation.
Approximate timescales: 6 months or 10 meetings.
This is a smaller scale review or investigation, usually including 2-3 informal meetings of a group of Committee members, who will consider briefings by relevant officer(s) from Council and/or partner organisations. They will work mainly by drawing together currently available information, and not carry out any new research or consultation activities with the exception of a witness session. The Councillors of the group will actively contribute to the collection of information, evidence and co-ordination of their group.
Approximate timescales: 2 to 3 months or 5 meetings.
Bite sized reviews
This type of review can be used either to consider a high profile/pressure local community issue in a short time frame or to allow Councillors to explore a single issue in more depth without embarking on a full scale Scrutiny Review. Bite size reviews use available information/background briefings for the Board/Committee and has a single subject one-off meeting usually to hear from Service Officers or, perhaps, an invited partner agency. At these meetings, the Committee's conclusions and recommendations are drafted at the end of the session. A report detailing the conclusions and recommendations will be brought to the next Board/Committee meeting.
Approximate timescales: 1 to 2 months or 1 meeting.
How is it decided which topics come up for scrutiny review?
Scrutiny consults with the public and other bodies to decide a proposed work programme for the upcoming year municipal year (from May to April).
What is a call in?
Scrutiny members have the power to challenge or 'call in' a decision made by an Executive Member or the Executive if they believe that it goes against the Council's financial or policy framework.
A request for a call in must follow strict guidelines. A call in can be made by any three members of the council within five days of the decisions publication. The Director of Governance will decide whether the request meets the criteria for call in. If it does, the Director of Governance will call a meeting of the Scrutiny Co-ordinating Board who will decide what action to take.
The Board will consider the call in request by:
- Giving one of the members who requested the call in the opportunity to present their case for calling in the matter;
- Allowing the decision maker the opportunity to explain their decision and answer any questions from the members who called in the decision;
- Inviting any other members of the Board to ask questions of the decision-maker or of the members who requested the call in.
Having considered the call in request, the Board may decide:
- That the decision is contrary to policy and should be referred to a meeting of full Council;
- That it has concerns about the way the decision was made and that it should be referred back to the decision making body for reconsideration; or
- To take no further action.
A call in will usually be open to the public and the details published on the Council's website.
There are certain decisions which cannot be the subject of a call in. Decisions made by the Licensing and Planning Committees and those decisions which are urgent are all exempt from call in.
What is a 'Councillor Call for Action'?
The 'Councillor Call for Action' (CCfA) was introduced by the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007. This Act gave all Councillors the opportunity to bring an issue of local concern to scrutiny when all other options have been exhausted.
What are the criteria for a CCfA?
An item can be considered if it meets all of the following criteria:
- The CCfA must relate to a local government matter specific to one or more Wards in Eden District
- The CCfA must relate to an issue of neighbourhood concern and be limited to all or part of the Ward which the Councillor submitting the request represents
- A CCfA cannot relate to a matter which could be subject to the Council's complaint process. A Councillor Call for Action cannot relate to a licensing or planning decision; a vexatious and persistent matter; a discriminatory matter or where there is a right of recourse to review or right to appeal.
- The Councillor submitting a CCfA must submit evidence that all other means of resolving the matter have been explored, in accordance with guidance issued by the Scrutiny Co-ordinating Board
Scrutiny is most effective when it involves the public and service users. Below are just some of the ways in which you can become involved in scrutiny at Eden.
Attend a meeting
The three Scrutiny Committees meet five times a year, 15 meetings in total. The meetings are open to the public. Further details about upcoming meetings are published on the Committee Meetings Calendar.
Ask a question
You can ask a question at a Scrutiny Committee meeting. If you wish to ask a question please submit your question to the Director of Governance. Your question must be submitted no later than midday on the day before the meeting at which you wish to ask a question. Please include your name and address when you submit your question. For more details see public participation at meetings.
Scrutiny is not about making specific complaints. It is about developing new policy and reviewing existing policy in order to make improvements. We have separate procedures for making complaints.
Become a Scrutiny co-optee
The Scrutiny Committees have the power to elect up to two non-voting co-optees onto a Scrutiny Review Group. They can then take part in a Scrutiny Review. If you feel that you may have a role to play then please contact the Scrutiny Officer, details below.
Submitting a topic for Scrutiny
If you would like to make a suggestion for a Scrutiny Review topic we will begin our Scrutiny Consultation process for 2016-2017 in November 2015.