The report and appendix are attached.
Nichola Vine (Strategy and Commissioning Manager, Legal & Democratic) introduced the report, stating that an independent review had been commissioned to examine the Authority’s approach to scrutiny and to consider opportunities to improve upon current arrangements.
Nichola Vine advised that the independent report produced by Dr Jane Martin provided some positive feedback, particularly in relation to members’ commitment to continuous improvement, and the work undertaken by Democratic Services. The report outlined several opportunities for improvement culminating in a series of recommendations. The Committee’s view was sought in respect of the report and future arrangements for scrutiny.
Nichola Vine stated that a relaunch of the scrutiny function had been proposed with a stronger alignment with corporate objectives and a focus on collegiate, constructive and challenging discussion. This could be accomplished by a restructuring of committees to foster improved scrutiny of corporate themes and objectives; or to align committees more closely with change portfolio themes.
Nichola Vine advised that the report highlighted the opportunities presented by virtual meeting technology, including improved scope to engage with members of the public and external partners.
Nichola Vine highlighted the potential for the timetable for meetings to be reviewed to ensure that scrutiny committees could be held at the optimum time to facilitate input into decision-making. The report also highlighted the value of dynamic task and finish groups, drawing upon the experience of the COVID-19 Recovery Member Working Groups held in July 2020.
Nichola Vine advised that an opinion on the recommendations of the report was being sought from each scrutiny committee, as well as from members on an individual basis, to identify a plan to be presented to councillors following the May 2021 election.
The Chair emphasised the importance of the report. He highlighted the role of scrutiny to act as a ‘critical friend’ - to examine issues and work alongside members of the executive to identify scope for improvements to be made.
Councillor O’Rourke highlighted the advantages of select committees for effective scrutiny. This arrangement provided scope to interact directly with service users and stakeholders to examine areas where the Authority had performed well and areas where improvements could be sought.
Councillor Falp welcomed the report, stating that, at other authorities, it was not uncommon for scrutiny committees to be chaired by members from across party groups. She advocated that WCC adopt a similar arrangement. She suggested that a focus on joint working between committees would confer benefits.
The Chair highlighted the recommendation for a ‘chair of chairs’ with oversight of scrutiny across the organisation; this would facilitate improved cross-panel cooperation.
Councillor Boad commented that portfolio holders, group leaders and chairs of scrutiny committees had been interviewed by Dr Martin. However, with two exceptions, members of scrutiny committees had been overlooked. This constituted a missed opportunity.
Councillor Boad advocated that the chairs of overview and scrutiny committees be drawn from parties outside of the majority group. She highlighted the opportunities presented by Microsoft Teams to facilitate a broader range of scrutiny activities, enabling a focus ... view the full minutes text for item 6