23 August 2012
Councillor Louise Baldock (Labour) is Chair of Finance and Resources Select Committee on Liverpool City Council
I was recently in email contact with the clerk of the committee that I chair at our council about how we can ensure that reports that come to us are presented with the best and most thoughtful consideration by those who give them. I have created, with his help, a list of questions that we shall ask all future presenters of reports and information to consider before they arrive, so that they understand why they are presenting the report and what committee members will need to draw from those reports. Those questions include:
Many of these questions are implicit in the report itself, written down within it in fact, but in future I would like officers to address these verbally as part of their introduction so that the answers are clear for everyone, irrespective of whether they have been able to read every word before coming to the meeting. This is particularly important when dealing with financial reports as some members are quite new to financial scrutiny, so it is really useful to be able to summarise in the introduction to a report that this is about capital spending, what that means, whether it relates to current or future spending, that it explains how we have a shortfall and how we might address that, or that if we take the action suggested here then we will disadvantage families with children (or whatever). I can see no reason why a similar set of questions could not be set by any chair of any scrutiny committee, but they might focus more on how a service dovetails with another, rather than how a set of accounts does.
Good scrutineers should keep a private tally of how involved they are in each item, how much they interrogate the data or the findings, how engaged they are with the meeting that they attend and how much they contribute. There are no points on my committees for anyone who sits silently through a meeting.
Ask these questions of the reports you are looking at:
And finally, I recommend that all scrutineers should ask the following key question, of every item on the agenda, assuming other members have not already asked it:
If I still have your attention, and you would like to read a funny story which explains the essence of the need for scrutiny, do read this apocryphal story from Business Balls which I first learned of 20 years ago.
7 September 2012