The new opposition Chairman of the Scrutiny Committee, called an informal briefing for his new committee members and anyone interested, last night. He asked me as Leader of the Council to come along and give people my view of scrutiny and what I thought it should be doing as a committee.
Firstly I was glad it was an informal meeting, I brought Mrs Johnson (the other Cllr Johnson) and my four year old daughter with me. My daughter is very used to the idea of daddy going to meetings but rarely goes with me, so sitting in the corner of the room colouring in whilst daddy spoke to the committee was a bit of a treat for her, and it meant we were able to pop into the briefing whilst not totally disrupting a family night!
I spoke for about 10 minutes and outlined a number of things:
First I didn’t like the premise of the briefing “how to make scrutiny work” as I felt that implied that it had not worked previously, when I think there are a number of scrutiny reviews that were very successful in recent past – take the flooding review for one.
Second that it was not for me to tell scrutiny what to do, as it was more their job to challenge me and the work of the administration. We publish forward work plans for our committees and working groups showing the plans for the year and if scrutiny want to pre scrutinise some of these issues that is for them to choose.
Third we do not always have be adversarial. The scrutiny committee should act like a select committee in Parliament offering advice on upcoming bills etc and suggesting useful changes.
Fourth that the committee has powers to look at issues outside of the council, such as health and education of Harlow.
And finally that they should be realistic in their objectives – remembering that they are one committee in a small district council.
Scrutiny is an important part of local government and if run well by all parties involved can make a valuable contribution to the running of a town.
I left the briefing session with the thought that perhaps the rest of the evening should have a slightly different title to the one published, “How to make Scrutiny work better“