The Democratic Services Manager
introduced the report and began by stating this had come to
committee due to Councillor Spillman’s motion which was
outlined on page 15 of the agenda. He clarified that Councillor
Spillman had been made aware the report was coming to Corporate
Overview and Scrutiny Committee. He outlined that the report was
divided into two sections, with the first section relating to the
overview and scrutiny function, and the second relating to the
motions process. He commented that the report found
Thurrock’s overview and scrutiny function conformed with
national guidelines, and asked what Members would like to see from
the overview and scrutiny function. The Democratic Services Manager
then drew Members attention to point 2.4.4, 3.10 and 3.11 and asked
Members to undertake a project outside of the Committee meetings
regarding overview and scrutiny. He stated that he understood
present limitations and felt this report could be the impetus to
enhance overview and scrutiny. He moved on to discuss motions and
felt that the report highlighted motions were working well and
progressed once they had been agreed on at Council.
The Chair began by stating he welcomed the report, and the discussion around the role Members could play in the future regarding motions and overview and scrutiny. He added that consulting with other Members would be good, and from there overview and scrutiny could start making effective decisions and undertaking policy decisions. He felt that the overview and scrutiny process could improve and go further by allowing overview and scrutiny committees to have more decision-making power. He also felt that recommendations were part of the shortcomings in the process as often decisions made in overview and scrutiny committees were not relayed to Cabinet and Council, and felt that the executive branch should officially respond to recommendations made. The Chair then mentioned that he would like to see a more robust role for overview and scrutiny committees regarding the call-in function, as often decisions could not be called in as they had undergone a form of pre-scrutiny, even if changes had been made at the Cabinet meeting. He added that he understood overview and scrutiny was not part of the executive branch of government, but felt they could delay the implementation of proposals for further discussion and could involve a higher number of Councillors. He commented that as Chair he had lots of support from officers and reports were of high-quality and included feedback he had given. He finally stated that overview and scrutiny committees could be more active in requesting site visits, but that the capabilities they possessed was the most important aspect.
The Chair then opened the debate to other Members and Councillor Churchman began by drawing the Committee’s attention to point 2.4.4 and stating that he would appreciate specific overview and scrutiny training sessions throughout the year as knowledge was important to make decisions on committee and he did not want Members to feel they were falling behind if they missed some meetings. Councillor Duffin continued and stated he felt frustrated as the Council was a Cabinet run body, and felt that overview and scrutiny committees were of less importance. He added that overview and scrutiny reports were of high quality, but felt that Cabinet could do more to take on board recommendations made at overview and scrutiny meetings. He stated that he was unhappy with the motions process as they were often reworded to ensure other bodies made decisions and felt this was frustrating as he felt overview and scrutiny should have decision making power.
Councillor Fletcher then discussed Appendix 1 of the report and agreed with other Members that recommendations made at overview and scrutiny were not discussed at Cabinet meetings, and Portfolio Holders rarely attended. He stated that as Portfolio Holders did not attend overview and scrutiny committees, it was hard to include decision-makers in discussions and processes. He then commented that he would like relevant Portfolio Holders to attend overview and scrutiny meetings to make them more accountable.
Councillor Duffin then discussed a recent experience he had had where a press release about a project had been made before it had gone through the relevant overview and scrutiny committee, and mentioned that he had felt like decisions were already made without the support of overview and scrutiny. Councillor Hague echoed the sentiments made by other Members and drew the Committee’s attention to 2.2 of the report and stated that more dialogue needed to take place between Cabinet and overview and scrutiny as officers spent a lot of time and effort producing reports for overview and scrutiny. He added that he would like to see more linked-up working between the executive and overview and scrutiny.
The Democratic Services Manager began by commenting on Councillor Churchman’s point regarding on-going training sessions and mentioned that this had worked well in the past as previously the Health and Wellbeing Overview and Scrutiny Committee had run workshops for Members before each meeting, which had ensured Members could talk knowledgably on reports. He stated that the process could become more transparent and him and his team would undertake talks with Cabinet about what they wanted from the process, and would ensure that recommendations made at overview and scrutiny committees that went to Cabinet would be on the public record. He clarified for Members that due to law and governance limitations, overview and scrutiny committees were not a part of the executive, so could not have any decision making powers. He added that overview and scrutiny did have the power to do research, and felt it would be harder for Cabinet to refuse recommendations if these were supported with compelling evidence. The Democratic Services Manager added that one idea would be for overview and scrutiny committees to reflect on what they wanted to achieve at the beginning of the municipal year, so reports were not Cabinet led and could be community or resident focused. He then discussed Portfolio Holder’s attending overview and scrutiny meetings and stated that Portfolio Holder reports had, in the past, come to overview and scrutiny rather than Full Council, but this had been changed as Members had wanted the Chambers to be able to comment on them, rather than specific overview and scrutiny Members. He felt that overview and scrutiny could be a good forum for them as they had more time to discuss them in detail, and all Members could be invited if they wished to attend. He added that overview and scrutiny could invite any Portfolio Holder to meetings, and Portfolio Holders could then give presentations or take questions. He summarised by stating that the Democratic Services team could support on any ideas, and would be happy to help.
The Chair mentioned that a progress report should come back to Committee as it would be useful to see how other Councils across the country ran their overview and scrutiny meetings, to be able to see other forms of good practice. He added it would also be useful for Members to understand the legal and governance rules which outlined overview and scrutiny’s powers. Councillor Duffin felt that it would be good to see Portfolio Holders coming to overview and scrutiny committees as they could bounce ideas around and receive detailed answers to questions. He added that if Portfolio Holders attended and recommendations were rejected they could question why, and the Portfolio Holder could understand the discussions that had taken place. The Director of Finance and IT clarified that the numbering in the recommendations had now changed so recommendation 1.2 should read “as outlined in 3.10 and 3.11”, and recommendation 1.3 should read “on evidence as presented in 3.12 and onwards”. The Chair then summarised the discussion and stated a progress report would come back to the March meeting of the committee.
1. The Committee noted and commented on the overview and scrutiny function’s current performance in relation to the Centre for Public Scrutiny’s Evaluation Framework, and potential areas for service enhancement as outlined in 2.4.4.
2. The Committee agreed to undertake a consultation with Councillors on the aspirations for future delivery of overview and scrutiny, as outlined in 3.10 and 3.11.
3. The Committee commented on the current effectiveness and performance of motions based on evidence presented in 3.12 onwards.