Cheltenham Borough Council
Cheltenham Borough Council

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Agenda item

Review of Overview and Scrutiny

Presentation and discussion on the scope of the future Overview and  Scrutiny review

Minutes:

The Chair gave an introduction to the item as outlined in the attached report and informed Members that Darren Knight, Executive Director People and Change, would now be supporting Overview and Scrutiny as the Executive Leadership Team champion. This would enable scrutiny to move forward in a more structured way.

 

The Chief Executive, Pat Pratley, made reference to the attached report and explained that the last review of overview and scrutiny took place in 2011 with a review of the new arrangements taking place in 2013. It was now deemed timely to undertake a further review of scrutiny arrangements. As the Chair had already explained the Executive Leadership Team would now provide direct support and organisational oversight to the scrutiny Chair’s group via the Executive Director People and Change, Darren Knight, to be deputised by the Executive Director Finance and Assets, Paul Jones. This represented an obvious and definite commitment from the senior officer leadership of the authority and would assist in scoping the review of scrutiny.

 

The Executive Director People and Change, Darren Knight and the Strategy and Engagement Manager, Richard Gibson, then gave Members a presentation, the slides of which are attached to these minutes for information.

 

The Executive Director People and Change included in his presentation one proposal whereby the Chairs Group could set up a matrix for the O&S workplan and suggest some major cross cutting themes for O&S to consider. This could be prepared for the start of the year, i.e. the September meeting. The aim would still be to provide flexibility to address new suggestions by Members but would identify any resourcing issues going forward and thereby provide a more structured way of working.

The following points were raised by Members :

·         Some Members felt that they were already fully aware of what was important to residents due to case work and therefore generating topics for scrutiny was not an issue. Scrutiny registration forms were a means of addressing such concerns as this involved an officer response and a consideration of resource implications. The problem was that scrutiny did not have the resource available to it at the right level in order to address issues proposed in a timely and effective manner which had in turn an impact on council tax payers and the electorate.

·         The Chair supported the proposal to plan out the bigger issues as an option for O&S to consider as he could see how this would to a degree prevent slippage by providing a robustness to the structure of work.

·         A Member believed that there was not parity of esteem in terms of how Cabinet Members were supported by officers compared to Scrutiny Members. Scrutiny was a statutory function of the authority and she felt it was not working well. There were currently 20 items on the workplan which needed progressing and many of these were known issues and events of concern for residents.

·         A Member requested that the scope of O&S be extended to include scrutiny of services with a focus on community issues. He gave the example of requesting private schools in the borough to explain what charitable activities they undertook in the community.

·         A Member asked whether the implications of Brexit on the strategy for Cheltenham, in particular the cyber hub agenda and the aspiration to be competing with London for talent had been considered ? This was especially important given that Cheltenham was more diverse than other parts of the county in terms of numbers of EU nationals who worked in technology or education. It was hoped that international talent be attracted to make the cyber hub successful ?

Following the initial discussion the Chair reiterated that the work plan framework to be established would be owned by the committee and therefore O&S would still be determining the content. The option suggested would assist in identifying, at an early stage, the work programme and would build in flexibility.

The Chief Executive acknowledged the frustrations of some Members. She emphasised the importance of having a balanced programme of work which could be planned for during the year. Whilst resource would always have to be considered, by bringing the Executive Leadership Team into the process early conversations could be held to ensure there was minimal slippage in the plan. There would equally be an investigation into why some topics were being postponed, particularly with reference to scrutiny request forms. She did highlight that since the last scrutiny review the number of commissioned services had grown considerably and this would need to be considered as part of the review of O&S. She expressed her commitment that ELT would do everything it could to support O&S in the development of its work.

The Chief Executive then elaborated that ad hoc requests were more difficult to attend to due to limited resource but proposed that every scrutiny request form would now be directed to ELT which met on a weekly basis. ELT would commit to responding to scrutiny with how it intended to meet the request and where possible would do its best to put in the resource where they were required.

 

Further comments raised by Members :

·         Some Members felt it was a good committee and had challenged and asked difficult questions at times.

·         A mix between scheduled and spontaneous issues was welcomed and giving the Chair’s group more time to schedule was important.

·         Members welcomed the support of ELT in scrutiny to help drive things forward.

·         The question was raised as to how scrutiny was engaging with BEM communities.

·         A Member questioned why the committee was limited to 7 meetings per year and expressed concern about the balance between a predetermined and a spontaneous agenda. Flexibility was key.

·         A Member referred to a House of Commons Select Committee report from December 2017 with regard to scrutiny and its ability to report to the full Council and the need for scrutiny briefings to be supported by officers. Democratic Services would undertake to ascertain whether there was a constitutional right for scrutiny briefings to be submitted to Council.

·         Greater parity of esteem was sought by a Member but it was acknowledged that this was the start of the process and the review definitely needed to happen.

·         A Member welcomed the 10 prompts suggested in the presentation. Whilst these were useful it did not prevent things from arising for discussion in an ad hoc manner.

 

The Executive Director People and Change made reference to the LGA best practice for scrutiny and the suggested form of criteria to help scrutiny set the work programme for the year. He emphasised that this was one suggestion for the committee to consider going forward.

 

In responding to the discussion the Chief Executive expressed her concern that a Member felt that there was not parity of esteem between officers and Members of the Council. It was unacceptable that she should feel like that. Officers were there for all 40 Members and she assured the Member that there was parity of esteem.

 

The Chair thanked officers for their presentations and suggestions which could be considered as part of the review and following the scheduled training on 1 May. The scope for the review would be worked up by the Chair’s group.

 

Members proposed and agreed that an additional meeting of O&S should be diarised in May to consider the scope for the review. This would follow on from the O&S training already scheduled for 1 May.

Supporting documents: