House of Commons debate on overview and scrutiny committees - 17 May 2018

Any effective scrutiny model must hold decision-makers to account and add value to processes and practice, as well as delivering financial savings and service improvements that positively impact on the communities they represent. Local authorities need freedom and flexibility to develop overview and scrutiny arrangements that best reflect local circumstances and priorities.

Key messages

  • Local government overview and scrutiny arrangements have a proven track record of influencing decisions in councils across the country. This has a positive impact on services and peoples’ lives. Approaches to scrutiny differ because of the different local challenges councils face. There is no ‘one size fits all’. The flexibility to conduct scrutiny in ways that best reflect local circumstances is fundamental to its success.
  • To maximise the full potential of scrutiny adequate funding is required. With an overall funding gap of around £5 billion by 2020, councils are facing unprecedented challenges and difficult choices about reductions to the local services communities rely on. As a result of reductions to council budgets, councils have less resource to carry out scrutiny functions. 
  • The public services landscape has changed significantly since the Local Government Act 2000 was passed. Overview and scrutiny arrangements in local government have successfully adapted and responded as the powers and accountabilities of councils have expanded. It will need to continue to do so as more powers are devolved to local authorities.
  • Local public services are delivered by a mix of councils, public, private, and voluntary and community sector partners. This raises the question of whether powers to summon witnesses are adequate. There are differing views across local government on whether there should be powers to summon witnesses. This will often reflect the strength of local relationships.
  • Advice on scrutiny arrangements is just one aspect of the LGA’s support offer to councils in England, which also includes carrying out over 100 peer challenges each year, training and developing over 700 councillors, helping councils deliver savings, as well as specific support on issues such as housing and community cohesion.

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House of Commons debate on overview and scrutiny committees - 17 May 2018