Executive submitted a report that recommended changes to the way in which East Herts Council undertook scrutiny, in
order to deliver high-quality and value for money scrutiny. The
Chief Executive provided the background to the report and a summary
of the proposals.
It was noted that the proposals would include a new Overview and Scrutiny Committee (forward looking and shaping new policies at an early stage) and a Performance, Audit and Governance Scrutiny Committee (reviewing progress on delivery of the corporate strategic plan). Key to the process was for each Committee to have clear forward looking work programmes. Proposals also included the establishment of a Community Wellbeing Forum comprising Member “champions” who wished to become more involved in the health and wellbeing agenda within their areas. Members welcomed the report.
In response to a query regarding a recommendation to pay Chairmen and Vice Chairmen an allowance, the Chief Executive explained that this would be an issue for the Independent Remuneration Panel to consider.
Councillor K Crofton commented on the need for Executive Members to attend meetings of scrutiny, how meetings were minuted and that training on scrutiny should be given to Members. Councillor M Freeman suggested that the Minutes needed to reflect the reasons for Members’ views and the Executive to be made aware of Members’ “challenges”.
Councillor M Pope referred to the fact that training was normally a part of the Audit and Governance agenda and queried the size of the work programme of the two proposed new committees. The Chief Executive explained that the work programme would cover a period of two years. She reminded Members of the role of scrutiny which was to hold the Executive to account and explained that it was not always possible for the Minutes of a meeting to include the detail Members might want.
The Chairman referred to a question submitted by Councillor P Moore regarding Members being able to meet outside formal committee meetings to research issues to help the scrutiny process. Councillor P Phillips reminded Members that Officers attended informal meetings to ensure transparency of process. The issue as to whether Members of the Executive held informal meetings themselves was discussed.
The Acting Head of Legal and Democratic Services stated that it was not unusual for briefing meetings to take place which were not formal meetings, in order that the decision makers could be better informed, adding that transparency was based on the decision making process. The Acting Head explained that meetings of scrutiny were open meetings and that to treat the Executive differently, could be viewed as perverse and could reduce the effectiveness of the Executive which was essentially a procedural partnership.
Members debated at length the sample scrutiny proposal form set out at Essential Reference Paper “B” of the report. In particular, Members considered the inclusion of the first three questions . The Chief Executive explained the rationale for the inclusion of these in terms of bringing forward items for the work programme. A number of suggestions were put forward regarding the approach to be taken in respect of the sample form.
Councillor G Cutting proposed and Councillor C Woodward seconded a motion that the sample form be amended by the removal of the first three questions (on the second page) and simplifying the depth of information requested. After being put to the meeting and a vote taken, this motion was declared CARRIED.
The joint meeting supported the recommendations, as now amended.
RESOLVED – that (A) the report be received;
(B) the two key proposals in respect of work programmes and the number of scrutiny committees, as detailed in the report submitted, be supported;
(C) further proposals for ways to improve scrutiny, as detailed in paragraph 3.17 of the report submitted, be supported;
(D) plans to set up a Community Wellbeing Forum, as detailed in paragraph 3.19 of the report submitted, be noted; and
(E) the sample scrutiny proposal form as detailed at Essential Reference Paper “B” of the report submitted, be amended by the removal of the first three questions (on the second page) and simplifying the depth of information requested.