Agenda item

So the Committee can review the report of the Corporate Finance & Governance Portfolio Holder to Cabinet in relation to the approval of the draft Protocol for Cabinet and Overview and Scrutiny roles, which has been produced following consultation undertaken with the Chairman of the relevant Committees and Portfolio Holders for recommendation onto the Overview and Scrutiny Committees and full Council for adoption and incorporation into the Council’s Constitution.


It was reported to Members that in May 2019, Statutory Guidance was published by the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government in May 2019 on Overview and Scrutiny in Local and Combined Authorities.  The Council in operating as Leader and Executive Governance Model must have regard to it when exercising their functions and should be followed unless there was a good reason not to in a particular case.  The Guidance was attached as Appendix A to that Report.


Section 2 of the Government’s Statutory Guidance refered to Culture and expressly states


The prevailing organisational culture, behaviours and attitudes of an authority will largely determine whether its scrutiny function succeeds or fails. 


While everyone in an authority can play a role in creating an environment conducive to effective scrutiny, it is important that this is led and owned by members, given their role in setting and maintaining the culture of an authority.


Creating a strong organisational culture supports scrutiny work that can add real value by, for example, improving policy-making and the efficient delivery of public services.  In contrast, low levels of support for and engagement with the scrutiny function often lead to poor quality and ill-focused work that serves to reinforce the perception that it is of little worth or relevance.


Members and senior officers should note that the performance of the scrutiny function is not just of interest to the authority itself. Its effectiveness, or lack thereof, is often considered by external bodies such as regulators and inspectors, and highlighted in public reports. Failures in scrutiny can therefore help to create a negative public image of the work of an authority as a whole.”


The Committee was informed that the guidance recommended an ‘executive-scrutiny protocol’ to help define the relationship between the two arms of the organisation, dealing with the practical expectations of scrutiny committee members and the Executive, as well as the cultural dynamics.  Councils should consider adopting a protocol, e.g. formal agreement at scrutiny committees and Cabinet, then formal integration into the Council’s constitution.


The Council already had strong measures in place to demonstrate the openness of Cabinet being held to account and introduced some time ago that Group Leaders of all political groups would have the right to attend Cabinet meetings, speaking on agenda items although not being able to vote.  The Terms of Reference of the Resources and Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee state that the position of Chairman and Vice-Chairman will normally be a Member of a political group not represented on the Cabinet.  Informal Group Leaders meetings are also held at which the Leader or Deputy Leader can share information in advance of going to Cabinet or other topics, which proved particularly useful during the Council’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  The Chief Executive holds regular All Member Briefings, at which Portfolio Holders had presented ideas on early strategies and policies for discussion. And furthermore the Deputy Leader chairs a Constitution Review Working Group, whose membership was made up by all other political Groups of the Council


The Members heard that as previously requested by Cabinet, Senior Officers produced a draft Protocol for Cabinet and Overview and Scrutiny roles for consultation with Chairman of Overview and Scrutiny and Audit Committees and the Deputy Leader and Portfolio Holder for Partnerships.  The Statutory Guidance had been considered in the production of the draft Protocol together with taking into account comments received through consultation.


The draft Protocol introduced a number of principles and how it applied between the roles of Cabinet and Overview and Scrutiny building upon a relationship of trust whilst both bodies are performing their statutory functions, acknowledging the inter-relationship with Audit too. It was designed to sit alongside the range of other commitments to openness and inclusiveness set out above. It also set out how Policy Development Overview and Pre-Decision Scrutiny could work in addition to the traditional views of solely holding the Cabinet to account.  The importance of timely overview and scrutiny in budget setting and monitoring throughout the year was highlighted to show how the process can add value, by reviewing whether the financial plans and strategies of the Council were sound and had taken into consideration all relevant factors.


It was reported to the Committee that Performance Measurement and reporting provided insight into whether value was being achieved and whether improvements were necessary, feasible and affordable.  The purpose of reporting general performance data to an Overview & Scrutiny Committee enabled scrutiny as to capturing the right level of data to support delivery of services or priorities – and to make recommendations, if necessary.  In some instances further enquiry of an activity may be warranted and the Committee would factor how that work could be accommodated in the Committee’s work programme.


Members heard that through its work programme the Overview and Scrutiny Committees would consider the Cabinet’s adopted priorities in support of the Council’s Corporate Plan, areas of planned policy development over the relevant Municipal Year (and the next) would be provided and they would be asked to highlight any areas where overview & scrutiny may be specifically invited to assist in work (including Community Leadership areas).  The enquiries included within the work programme should be identified to add value to the Council as a whole and the district.  The allocation of enquires to specific Overview and Scrutiny Committees in accordance with their respective terms of reference.


The draft Protocol also refers to how Overview & Scrutiny recommendations to the Cabinet would be dealt with including seeking further clarity if needed. Some additional operational matters had been included for completeness in determining the relationship covering responding to urgent items of Cabinet Business, Scrutiny Consideration of Confidential Decisions, Call-in and Councillor Call to Action which builds upon the existing requirements within the Constitution.


It was reported to the Committee that with due regard to the Council’s Statement on Council development, training would be made available for Overview & Scrutiny Committee members, Cabinet Members and Officers in support on the Protocol and elements referenced in it including work planning, budget scrutiny, using performance data and key lines of enquiry.


In the Overview & Scrutiny Annual Report submitted to Full Council each year there would be a section demonstrating the impact of Overview & Scrutiny and effectiveness of the Protocol.


All Members would be expected to adhere to the Protocol in their respective roles, once formally adopted by Council, the Protocol would be incorporated within Part 6 of the Constitution.

After a detailed conversation it was moved by Councillor M Stephenson and seconded by Councillor Bray that the Committee noted and endorsed the contents of the report and added it to the work programme for review.

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