I am delighted to report that at the South Kesteven Full Council meeting of 17 December, Councillors agreed unanimously with my proposal that the Council’s Overview and Scrutiny Committees could benefit from a bit more, well, overview and scrutiny!
A report was presented to the Council by ‘Chair of Chairs’, Cllr Graham Jeal (Con), on behalf of the four Overview and Scrutiny Committees was supposed to be only for noting. However, I introduced a ‘motion without notice’, in line with the Council’s constitution, in order to recommend that:
“the role structure and performance of the scrutiny committees should be referred to a suitable independent individual, nominated by the LGA, to review whether or not it is fit for purpose and how it might be improved”
I suggested that the Council Leader, Cllr Kelham Cooke (Con) should not be involved in the debate because he had previously claimed that he didn’t get involved in the management and workings of scrutiny committees (even though he personally appoints the Chairs and Vice-Chairs of all the Scrutiny Committees which are [ahem] coincidentally filled entirely by Conservatives. However, I was surprised and delighted when he did intervene to ask his Conservative colleagues to support the review of scrutiny which was then passed unanimously.
Here is the text of the speech I made to encourage the Council to review its scrutiny function:
“Thank you very much, Chair,
I’m pleased to see that we’re scrutinising scrutiny for a change, but this report is a bit like a “What I did in the holidays” type of essay. A list of information without any reflection or self-criticism.
There are some good bits within it which I welcome, including the stuff on climate change, but it’s a bit of curate’s egg – I’m sure we can all point to bits we like but actually, most of it shows up how scrutiny at South Kesteven is not working.
Here are five examples:
Number 1 – Environment Committee – Tree Policy
Para 3.4.2 says the Environment Committee “agreed to the development of a policy relating to tree replanting with the Council playing an increased contributory role”.
That policy still hasn’t appeared and if we are planting trees in large numbers then we’re being awfully quiet about it.
Number 2 – Finance Committee – Budget Profiling
6.12.4 – “The Chair requested a review to establish how effectively budget profiling was being managed by Service Managers” – The review never happened.
Number 3 – Leisure Centres
The Council is committed to a Leisure Transformation Strategy which includes a commitment to the construction of long-overdue leisure centre for replace the Deepings existing decrepit facility.
The management of existing leisure centres is one of the most outward facing services provided by the Council but has received almost no meaningful scrutiny, neither has the Leisure Transformation Strategy. In February, not one but two of the Overview and Scrutiny Committees voted to set up a Members Panel, as we know, it has never met and the actions (and inaction) of the Cabinet Member responsible have not been properly scrutinised at any scrutiny committee.
6.16.2 says “An extension to the contract with 1life would enable sufficient time for feasibility work to be undertaken and development of a Procurement Strategy”. Less than a year later and Cabinet Members have admitted that the 1Life contract wasn’t actually that good and we should take the service in-house instead.
Number 4 – Modernising Housing Services
I draw Members attention to para 7.5 of the report which says:
“Due to many policies and practices having become outdated and inefficient a comprehensive review and restructure of the Housing service had begun in January 2019.”
January 2019! That’s when we already knew that our Housing Services were outdated and inefficient and yet, later in this meeting, we’re to be told that until very recently it was just as bad, if not worse and we’ve only just started to do anything about it.
Para 7.5.1 says the Communities Committee received two reports about Housing Voids in Autumn 2019 yet we still don’t have a Voids Policy.
Para 7.5.2 says the Housing Review should have been completed in 4 or 5 months.
Number 5 – Bourne Cicle Event
At para 4.5.2 we read about how good the Bourne Cicle festival was.
The original intent of the Ciclefest was to build an event, year-by-year which would become something sustainable which would attract people to Bourne. The first year was overspent but the Culture Committee agreed it was a good event worth repeating.
Sadly Cllr Trollope-Bellew didn’t agree and in the very next paragraph (4.5.3) we read that she was able to unilaterally pull the rug from under it. This wasn’t by making a decision but by not making one…
… and no-one can use the call-in procedure to challenge deliberate procrastination.
These are only five examples of the Scrutiny Process failing to do its job properly.
Turn back to para 2.1.1 and you will read:
•Scrutiny should work effectively with the Cabinet and senior management.- It doesn’t
•Scrutiny should provide an effective mechanism for the Cabinet to demonstrate public accountability.– It doesn’t
And paragraph 2.1.3 says
Scrutiny should operate with political impartiality. – It doesn’t
I could tell you the reasons why…
… but I know you all prefer to pay external consultants for advice so therefore, Chair, I would like to propose a Point of Order, as follows:
I propose a ‘Motion without notice’, i.e. under 4.10 (iv) that “the role, structure and performance of the scrutiny committee should be referred to a suitable Independent individual, nominated by the LGA to review whether or not it is fit for purpose and how it might be improved”.
And Chair, one last point if I may – The Leader has often said that he doesn’t get involved with the management or workings of the Scrutiny Committees, so I very much hope that he and his Cabinet will not try to influence this debate or vote!