Overview and Scrutiny

Overview and Scrutiny

Overview and Scrutiny is a function of local authorities in England and Wales. It was introduced by the Local Government Act 2000 which created separate Executive and Overview and Scrutiny functions within councils.

Councils operating Executive Arrangements are required to create an Overview and Scrutiny Committee which is composed of councillors who are not on the Executive Committee of that council. Overview and Scrutiny Committees are required to meet the rules on proportionality defined in the Local Government And Housing Act 1989 (i.e. the committee must reflect the respective sizes of the political groups on the council). Councils which operate Alternative Arrangements are required to create an Overview and Scrutiny committee which is similarly politically proportionate. (Alternative Arrangements are normally operated by councils covering an area with a population of less than 85,000 but can also include larger councils, for example Brighton and Hove until 2008).

Some local authorities subdivide their main Overview and Scrutiny Committee into sub-committees, often titled Select Committees after parliamentary practice, though a wide variety of designations and structures are in use.


Functions of Overview and Scrutiny

The role of overview and scrutiny differs from authority to authority and can usually be ascertained with reference to the Council's Constitution.

Scrutiny may under the Local Government Act 2000 make recommendations to the council's executive, and under other legislation may also make recommendations to other local bodies. Such bodies are under various obligations to respond or have regard to these recommendations. Most scrutiny functions have a process by which recommendations are monitored to check on their implementation. This is seen as one of the principles ways to ascertain the impact that scrutiny has on local services.[1]

Holding decision-makers accountable

This is often undertaken by questioning executive councillors, council employees and representatives of other organisations on decisions made and policies being pursued in the local area. This kind of formal holding to account usually happens "in committee".

By law, Overview and Scrutiny must have the right to 'call-in' decisions - i.e. ask the decision-maker to think again, or to refer the decision to the full council if it is believed that the decision-maker has taken a decision in contravention of the council's budget or policy framework. To be called in, decisions usually need to be key decisions (i.e., listed in the council's Forward Plan). There is usually a window of five working days between the notification of the decision (when it is placed on public deposit) when a call-in can be requested. Again, this varies from authority to authority.

Pre-decision scrutiny/in-year monitoring

Development of the policy framework is a shared responsibility between the council's executive and the full council itself. Many councils have a procedure for detailed inspection of proposals by members on Overview and Scrutiny committees before the Executive brings final proposals to council, a process known as "pre-decision scrutiny".

Scrutiny often has a role in in-year performance and finance monitoring, which it undertakes alongside the audit function of the authority.[2][3]

Performance and policy review

Overview and Scrutiny Committee or Select Committees undertake in-depth reviews of particular issues of relevance to local people. This is hoped to be a significant influence on future decisions of the Executive and inform developments both in policy and administrative practice. Work like this is usually carried out in informal "task and finish" groups, which investigate a given issue and report back to the commissioning committee with a final report.[4] This kind of scrutiny is regarded by many practitioners as the most effective,[5]

Scrutiny of public services delivered by external organisations

The government wished to see Councils take a stronger role in scrutinising public services outside their own organisation. Accordingly, the Health and Social Care Act 2001 provided the Overview and Scrutiny functions of unitary authorities and county councils statutory powers to call in witnesses from local National Health Service (NHS) bodies, and make recommendations that NHS organisations must consider as part of their decision-making processes. Similarly the Health and Social Care Act 2001 places requirements on NHS organisations to consult with health overview and scrutiny committees when considering substantial developments or variations to services.

The Police and Justice Act 2006 created similar scrutiny powers for external organisations with a role in crime and disorder.

The Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007 and the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009 also granted significant new powers to scrutiny to scrutiny partner organisations (i.e. public bodies operating in the local area other than the local authority).[6]

Since 2003 there has been a marked trend towards more scrutiny of partnership work, to the extent that this has now been fully integrated in many scrutiny functions which do not make a distinction between "internal" and "external" work.[7] More recently the advent of Total Place (an initiative begun under the Labour Government in 2009 to examine the potential for improving efficiency by joining up local services is expected to accelerate this process.[8][9] Some (including the Centre for Public Scrutiny) have suggested that this will mean that overview and scrutiny in local government will have to change its approach to accommodate the challenges to governance and accountability that will result.[10]

Since the 2010 General Election

In December 2010 the Coalition Government introduced the Localism Bill into the House of Commons. The Bill is expected to receive Royal Assent by the summer.

The Bill makes wide-ranging changes to how local government in England operates.[11] Local government in Wales is devolved so the bulk of the proposals in the Bill will not apply there.

The Bill (at report stage) makes no substantial changes to the operation of overview and scrutiny in English local authorities. It instead consolidates existing legislation.[12]

The Bill will allow any council in England to adopt the committee system, which was abolished by the Local Government Act 2000. Under the committee system, committees of councillors made decisions collectively rather than power being concentrated in the hands of a Cabinet. Councils adopting this form of executive arrangements may still appoint an overview and scrutiny committee.[13]

The Government has also proposed significant structural reform in policing,[14] which will affect the operation of overview and scrutiny and its relationship with the police. Elected police commissioners will, under the Act, be held to account by a Police and Crime Panel composed of local scrutiny councillors.[15][16]

Changes to the National Health Service proposed as part of the Health and Social Care Bill[17] will also affect accountability and the operation of health scrutiny.

See also


  1. ^ "2009 Annual Survey of Overview and Scrutiny in Local Government" (CfPS, 2010), http://www.cfps.org.uk/what-we-do/publications/cfps-general/?id=123
  2. ^ "Green Light" (CfPS, 2010) - see also http://www.idea.gov.uk/idk/core/page.do?pageId=76209
  3. ^ "On the money" (CfPS, 2007)
  4. ^ For example, Mendip Council's protocol for T&F groups is typical - http://www.mendip.gov.uk/Download.asp?path=%2FDocuments%2FMinutesAndReports%2FScrutiny+Toolkit%2F07+Procedure+for+Task+Finish+Groups.doc.
  5. ^ "Successful scrutiny 2010" (CfPS, 2010), http://www.cfps.org.uk/what-we-do/publications/cfps-general/?id=145
  6. ^ "Pulling it all together" (CfPS, 2010), http://www.cfps.org.uk/what-we-do/publications/cfps-general/?id=126
  7. ^ "2009 Annual Survey of Overview and Scrutiny in Local Government" (CfPS, 2010), http://www.cfps.org.uk/what-we-do/publications/cfps-general/?id=123
  8. ^ "Between a rock and a hard place" (CfPS, 2010), http://www.cfps.org.uk/what-we-do/publications/cfps-general/?id=140
  9. ^ "Greater than the sum of its parts: Total Place and the future shape of public services" (NLGN, 2010)
  10. ^ "Accountability Works" (CfPS, 2010), http://www.cfps.org.uk/what-we-do/publications/cfps-general/?id=128
  11. ^ Statement by Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government - http://www.communities.gov.uk/statements/newsroom/localismbill
  12. ^ Centre for Public Scrutiny Policy Briefing 7 - Localism Bill and Grant Allocation - http://www.cfps.org.uk/what-we-do/publications/cfps-general/?id=147
  13. ^ Policy Briefing 4 - Changing governance arrangements - http://www.cfps.org.uk/what-we-do/publications/cfps-general/?id=146
  14. ^ Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill - http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2010-11/policereformandsocialresponsibility.html
  15. ^ Policy Briefing 8 - Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill - http://www.cfps.org.uk/what-we-do/publications/cfps-general/?id=152
  16. ^ Home Office website on the progress and content of the Bill - http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/publications/about-us/legislation/police-reform-bill/
  17. ^ http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2010-11/healthandsocialcare.html

External links

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