Lewisham Council responds to Parliamentary Select Committee Inquiry into Scrutiny arrangements

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Cllr Alan Hall has been re-elected Chair of Lewisham Council’s Overview & Scrutiny Committee at the AGM held on Monday, 27th March 2017. At the meeting the full OSC agreed to respond to the Department for Communities and Local Government Parliamentary Select Committee’s Inquiry into overview and scrutiny in local government. The Committee is considering whether overview and scrutiny arrangements in England are working effectively and whether local communities are able to contribute to and monitor the work of their councils – links to further details:

Clive Betts MP, Chair of the Communities and Local Government Committee commented:

“This inquiry is long overdue. Local authority executives have more powers than ever before but there has not been any review about how effectively the current overview and scrutiny arrangements are working since they were introduced in 2000.

Local authorities have a considerable degree of discretion when it comes to overview and scrutiny. We will examine these arrangements and consider what changes may be needed to ensure decision-makers in councils and local services are better held to account.”

 

A summary of Lewisham Council’s Overview & Scrutiny Committee’s formal response is here:

Structure of Overview and Scrutiny in Lewisham

  • Overview and Scrutiny in Lewisham comprises all members not part of the directly elected Mayors cabinet (the executive), currently 45 councillors. Those 45 members form the Overview and Scrutiny Committee, which then appoints six thematic sub committees (Select Committees) to carry out detailed scrutiny across strategic themes. Each committee meets 8 times a year and currently carries out a mixture of regular performance monitoring, policy development and in-depth scrutiny reviews. Each Committee has 10 councillor members, with additional faith and parent governor reps appointed to the Children and Young People Select Committee. All scrutiny committees are required to mirror the political balance of the Council.
  • The Overview and Scrutiny Committee also appoints a “Business Panel”, comprising of the Chair and Vice Chair of Overview and Scrutiny, the six select committee chairs and 2 or more additional councillors, as required to ensure the political composition of the Council is reflected. Chairs and Vice Chairs are allocated on a politically proportionate basis. The Business Panel ensures a co-ordinated approach to scrutiny across the select committee to ensure there is no duplication across the various committees, and ensures the effective use of resources within the scrutiny function. The Panel also carries out executive decision “call-in” on behalf of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee. 
  • Scrutiny in Lewisham constructively challenges decision makers. It creates a democratic space to investigate emerging issues and inform the development of Council policy. Scrutiny in Lewisham is committed to creating maximum impact for its work. Select committees use evidence from a broad range of sources to challenge performance of Council services and to drive improvement. Scrutiny committees regularly also choose important issues for in-depth review. Through the in-depth review process, councillors have the opportunity to hear from guest witnesses and experts alongside council officers and representatives of other public services. So far in this term (2014-2018), this work has been delivered by:
  • 45 councillors on Lewisham’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee
  • 6 select committees
  • 10 councillors on each committee
  • 2 time limited working groups
  • 2 business panels
  • 2 joint health overview and scrutiny committees
  • 37 select committee meetings in 2014/15
  • 48 select committee meetings in 2015/16
  • More than 80 external guests and expert witnesses, who have given evidence or contributed to scrutiny meetings
  • 16 in-depth reviews, 2 reports from working groups and 1 thematic review
  • 100+ referrals to Mayor and Cabinet 

 

Scrutiny of partner agencies 

  • Scrutiny in Lewisham was at the forefront of setting up effective scrutiny of health services when the relevant legislation was introduced, with the development of a protocol of understanding between the council scrutiny committee and NHS providers and commissioners and patient stakeholder groups (Healthwatch). Lewisham’s health and social care scrutiny protocol is an agreement between partners in Lewisham’s health care economy to deliver effective scrutiny, challenge and consultation. Partners have agreed to give prior notice to Lewisham’s Healthier Communities Select Committee about consultations – in advance of the statutory requirements to provide information relating to substantial variations to health services. The protocol also commits health partners to sharing their work programmes as well as commenting on, and submitting ideas for, the Select Committee’s work plan.

Joint scrutiny

  • In 2016, Lewisham and five other London boroughs (Bexley, Bromley, Greenwich, Lambeth and Southwark) agreed to set up a Joint Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee (JHOSC) to review and respond to proposals from the Our Healthier South East London programme OHSEL, which is responsible for developing and delivering the Sustainability and Transformation Plan for South East London.
  • The JHOSC was not satisfied with the proposed consultation on proposed major service change to elective orthopaedic surgery. The JHOSC raised the concerns voiced locally about the lack of detailed financial information available to the public and supported calls for one of the options that had been ruled out to be further evaluated and put to the public as part of the consultation. This work is now being undertaken by the OHSEL programme and the consultation will take place later this year.
  • Lewisham also worked jointly with Southwark, Lambeth and Croydon to review the proposed changes to the South London and Maudsley NHS foundation trust’s arrangements for provision of ‘places of safety’. The joint committee scrutinised the proposals from the acute mental health trust and their commissioners, to change the current service model of Place of Safety provision within SLaM from four separate Places of Safety, for the boroughs of Southwark, Lambeth, Lewisham and Croydon, to one centralised Place of Safety, provided in Southwark for all four boroughs.
  • The joint committee wanted to ensure that the proposals put forward by commissioners and providers led to the best possible service for residents. The Committee ensured that all relevant stakeholders were consulted fully, and that the potential implications for future ways of working were considered.
  • Scrutiny in Lewisham is currently working with 3 other London boroughs to collectively scrutinise the cause and impact of major water leaks across London. Thames Water, TFL and Ofwat are all being held to account by a concerted approach to scrutiny, and links with the London Assembly scrutiny of the same matter have also been developed. Joint scrutiny is incredibly effective at strengthening the voice of local people and holding service providers to account.

 

Holding the Executive to Account 

  • After every Mayor and Cabinet meeting an Overview and Scrutiny Business Panel meeting is scheduled. All executive decisions are subject to potential review by the business panel, and when it feels necessary, the panel can “call in” an executive decision and ask the decision maker to reconsider. Business Panel can also make comments and suggestions to Mayor and Cabinet, regarding suggested refinements to policies and practices, even if a decision is not formally called in.

 

New Bermondsey 

  • Scrutiny in Lewisham has played a pivotal role in providing critical friend challenge to the executive in relation to a proposed major regeneration scheme in the north of the borough. The scrutiny process enabled the voices of local stakeholders and residents to be heard. The scrutiny process in relation to this regeneration scheme has been raised in the House of Lords as an example of excellent scrutiny. Lord Young of Cookham advised the house that “the Hansard report of what the noble Lord (Kennedy of Southwark) just said should be sent to the members of every overview and scrutiny committee throughout the country to get an insight into how these committees can effectively further local democracy”.

Impact of scrutiny

  •  As well as those areas already outlined, a number of in depth reviews in Lewisham have had significant impact on policy development and performance of key services. Some examples:
  • As a result of the severe financial pressures faced by Local Government, the Public Accounts Select Committee decided to carry out an in-depth review into Income Generation, considering ways of maximising income generation to help protect the services to residents in the borough. The review led to a comprehensive package of changes in the development of initiatives and Council policy
  • Scrutiny in Lewisham has also looked at future infrastructure requirements locally. Overview and Scrutiny Committee’s review of the Centre for London’s work on ‘turning south London orange’ led it to recommend that the Council develop a strategic position on major infrastructure projects in the borough. Scrutiny urged decision makers to work proactively to consider how best to define Lewisham’s transport priorities. As a result of this the Public Transport Liaison Committee became a formal council body, recognising its importance and adding it to the other public services being held to account by member scrutiny. In London, public transport is key to regeneration and the daily lives of residents.

Challenges

  • Lessons are still being learnt in relation to the delivery of scrutiny, particularly with regard to effective relationships. Scrutiny members feel that they are not always treated with full parity of esteem by all officers and members. There can be a perception that scrutiny members are “lower ranking” than executive members. This can lead to scrutiny members not always receiving the information they need to effectively carry out their role in a timely fashion. Some officers can also be put in an invidious position where their independence is called into question. Scrutiny members feel that sometimes it is challenging for legal officers to provide impartial advice to both executive and scrutiny. Scrutiny members feel that a cultural change can be necessary to ensure that all members and all officers value the democratic role of councillors, and that all members’ roles and responsibilities are supported and respected equally.

 

The full formal response can be read here:

References:

Overview and Scrutiny in Lewisham Mid-term review report

Public Spending in Lewisham scrutiny review report

Emergency services in Lewisham scrutiny review report

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