East Devon Alliance provides evidence on poor scrutiny at EDDC to Parliamentary Inquiry; EDDC provides woeful response ignoring major problems

Owl says: EDA submission – explosive and incisive; EDDC submission – spin and fluff.

Executive Summary of longer submission:

“Executive Summary

East Devon Alliance understands that encouraging economic development is a crucial task in local government. However, we are concerned that the increasing influence of unaccountable business interests on council decisions damages the health of local democracy, and can threaten the wider interests of local communities. The climate of unhealthy cynicism about politics, and a failure to engage in the democratic process, is reinforced whenever there is an apparent failure of scrutiny to make councils transparent and accountable.

Overview and Scrutiny (O&S) can too easily be rendered ineffectual by a dominant majority party in a cabinet-led-executive.

Government advice that members of a majority party should not chair O&S dcommittees must be made mandatory.

Chief Executives must not be able to have inappropriate influence on O&S committees.

Scrutiny Officers need to be independent of influence and interference from senior officers or members of cabinet.

The scrutiny role needs to be strengthened to be able to call witnesses. It should be a legal requirement for officers and members of Council and associated bodies to cooperate.

With increasing privatisation, commercial confidentiality must not be used to shield public expenditure from scrutiny.

Scrutiny should “reflect the voice and concerns of the public” by giving local people more say in what issues are chosen for scrutiny.

There is no scrutiny mechanism of the new tier of local government created by the unelected and self-selecting Local Enterprise Partnerships who now control over £2 billion a year in England. Proposals made in 2013 by the Centre for Public Scrutiny could form the basis for scrutiny of such devolved bodies.”

EDDC’s full submission to the Inquiry, by contrast, seems woefully inadequate, when all you can find to boast about is your Tree Task and Finish Forum:

“Written evidence submitted by the Scrutiny Committee of East Devon District Council [OSG 035]

The committee considered the terms of reference set down by the CLG inquiry and responded as follows:

The committee discussed the terms of reference for submission:
Whether scrutiny committees in local authorities in England are effective in holding decision makers to account:

o Meetings are publicised and open to public, with responses to Cabinet as needed. Some question as to whether these comments are heeded, not just ‘noted’; if only noted, there are no reasons fed back to the Scrutiny committee to further work on or refine recommendations.

The extent to which scrutiny committees operate with political impartiality and independence from executives
o The committee were comfortable that they are independent and impartial.
Whether scrutiny officers are independent of and separate from those being scrutinised

o Democratic Services have high integrity
How chairs and members are selected

o Independent Chairman. Politically balanced committee but little attention paid
to individual skills, knowledge and aptitude. Consideration could be given to further training to hone scrutiny skills.

Whether powers to summon witnesses are adequate

o Inadequate for external organisations, with a recent example of the repeated request to NHS Property Services to attend but still failed to appear to answer questions. Some reluctance by members and officers to attend.

The potential for local authority scrutiny to act as a voice for local service users
o This was already being undertaken by the committee, with recent examples
covering superfast broadband delivery, NHS revision of service delivery, and the Police 101 service.

How topics for scrutiny are selected
o Committee Members (and other councillors) invited to be involved. There
may be work that the Cabinet require more detailed analysis of and a request made to the Scrutiny committee to carry out that examination – to date this has not occurred. There was often a frustration in not being able to investigate topics because of limitations of the constitution or on issues where so much time had passed that it was not deemed viable to look into.

The support given to the scrutiny function by political leaders and senior officers, including the resources allocated (for example whether there is a designated officer team)
o Shared service of an officer within Democratic Services, no dedicated officer. No dedicated budget for scrutiny work, no designated lead officer. Officers are called to committee as best fits the topics for discussion.
What use is made of specialist external advisers
o To date mostly witnesses not advisers invited to attend. A suggestion was
made to approach the Local Government Association for a scrutiny advisor. Unclear where such specialist external advisors could be sourced from or what cost that would entail, particularly as the committee has no budget.

The effectiveness and importance of local authority scrutiny of external organisations o Mostly a lobbying role passed to MPs and others. Perhaps more relevant for scrutiny at a county level, but the committee does the best it can to communicate to external organisations.

The role of scrutiny in devolution deals and the scrutiny models used in combined authorities
o Need to have scrutiny involvement throughout the process, not after the deal has been completed

Examples where scrutiny has worked well and not so well
Effective internally on aspects such as the Tree Task and Finish Forum, which produced a number of recommendations taken on board to protect trees and support the business case for an additional staff member; and changes to how press releases are handled by staff; less effective on having an impact on proposed increases in beach hut charges. With limited powers, difficult to have an impact on other outside bodies.”