What is Scrutiny?
Scrutiny Committees were introduced to ensure a greater number of Councillors were involved in influencing Council policy and service improvements, and provided checks and balances on the decisions taken by the Cabinet. In Neath Port Talbot this has resulted in the establishment of four Scrutiny Committees:
- Cabinet Scrutiny Committee
- Education, Skills and Wellbeing Scrutiny Committee
- Environment, Regeneration and Streetscene Services Scrutiny Committee
- Social Services, Housing and Community Safety Scrutiny Committee
Each Scrutiny Committee is made up of up to 15 Councillors drawn from political parties within the Council membership, which mirrors the overall political composition of the Council. The Education, Skills and Wellbeing Scrutiny Committee also includes Co-opted Parent Governors and two Co-opted Representatives of the Church in Wales and Roman Catholic Dioceses.
The Committees work together to ensure accountability, openness and transparency, implementing the Centre for Public Scrutiny's four principles of good Scrutiny, which are:
- Provides ‘Critical Friend' challenge to executive policy-makers and decision makers
- Enables the voice and concerns of the public to be heard
- Is carried out by ‘Independent Minded Governors' who lead and own the Scrutiny role
- Drives improvement in public services
The Constitution outlines the four main roles of Scrutiny. These are:
- Pre Scrutiny (this involves considering decisions to be taken by Cabinet and Cabinet Boards before they are made)
- Performance (this involves monitoring how services are performing)
- Policy and Partnership (this involves considering the impact of policies and holding partners of the Council to account)
- Post Scrutiny (this involves considering the impact of decisions after they have been made)
Neath Port Talbot Council currently has one Scrutiny Sub Committee which has been established by the following parent Committees:
- Cabinet Scrutiny Committee has established the Cabinet (Policy and Resources) Sub Committee to scrutinise issues relating to topics such as finance, performance and social justice
The Sub Committee scrutinises particular topics that fall within the parent committee’s portfolio in order to focus on specific areas of interest. This allows the parent committee to ensure that sufficient attention is being paid to the detail of specific topics. The Membership of the Sub Committees are made up of a smaller number of Members from the parent committee.
What Happens at a Scrutiny Committee Meeting?
Scrutiny Committees usually hold their meetings on a 4 or 6 weekly basis. The meetings are open to the public except when private items are being discussed (e.g. where individual personal or financial information is being considered). They have their own Forward Work Programmes.
The relevant Officers will present a report that has been requested by the Committee and Members of the Committee will then have the opportunity to ask questions related to the topic being Scrutinised. The respective Cabinet Members are also invited to the meeting to be held to account for the areas for which they have responsibility.
During the meeting, Members comments, observations and recommendations on the topics are recorded and considered later by the following Cabinet Boards/Cabinet when they are taking the final decision.
Occasionally Committees will also receive an overview of a ‘Task and Finish’ inquiry report that Members of the Committee have undertaken. The Committee is required to give final approval to the report and its recommendations before it is sent to the Cabinet Board/Cabinet.
How do Members Scrutinise an Issue?
When Scrutinising an issue or topic, Members will be presented with background information and the key challenges facing the Council in relation to that service or policy being considered.
The purpose of questioning at a Committee meeting is for Members to act as a ‘Critical Friend’ when considering specific issues in relation to services or policies being discussed.
Questioning can help to identify how efficient and effective our services are, how fair they are in providing access to all citizens, whether our services are performing well, what the key risks are and how they could be improved.
To ensure that the Council demonstrates that it has discharged its duty under the Equality Act 2010, Members must give due regard to completed Integrated Impact Assessments (IIA's).
How do Scrutiny Committees set their Forward Work Programmes?
Setting the Work Programme for the Scrutiny Committee is an important stage in the Scrutiny process; identifying key topics that will be considered in the coming year. Scrutiny Committee Members set the Work Programme with support from their Scrutiny Officer, early in the Civic year.
Some key principles for setting Work Programmes are:
- Topics should add value and support corporate priorities and the Council’s overall budget position
- Topics should be selected that will have an impact on the way the Council delivers services to the public
- Where appropriate involve partners, stakeholders and the public
- Allow some flexibility to enable topics to be included as they arise
- Seek improvement in service provision
- Be achievable within available resources
- Sources of information to identify key topics
Topics for the Work Programme come from a wide range of sources including:
- Suggestions made by Elected Members
- Suggestions made by Senior Management and their service area business plans
- Suggestions made by Scrutiny Officers
- The Cabinet's/Cabinet Boards Forward Plans
- Corporate performance monitoring reports
- Suggestions made by partners and stakeholders
- The Council's Corporate Improvement Plan and Single Integrated Plan
- Topics from budget monitoring reports and the Council's Forward Financial Plan
- Issues from audit and inspection reports
- Outcomes of public consultation
As well as the topics identified by Members, Scrutiny Committees have standing items that they regularly consider, such as service area business plans, budget monitoring and performance monitoring.
Once Members have assembled the Work Programme it will be important for them to identify and agree the highest priority topics, those that will add most value through their work. Topics requiring more detailed examination can be looked as part of a ‘Inquiry’ group and be included in the overall Scrutiny Work Programme.
How can the Public get Involved in Scrutiny?
Members of the public are welcome to attend Scrutiny Committees. Details of meetings.
Members of the public may also be invited to inform and provide information to specific inquiry groups.
The Council wants to make it easier for members of the public to get involved in Scrutiny. If you have any suggestions to improve the process please contact us.