Wednesday, 11 February 2015

"Half of officers and members see scrutiny as not challenging enough."

Next month, the internal and external auditors will be presenting their reports on the figures around the relocation project:
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: energy and consultancy figures: Auditors' reports to go to joint committees 5th March

This follows on from a commitment by District Councillors in December that these figures would be 'thoroughly examined':
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: 'checks and balances': the SWAP
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: 'checks and balances': the SWAP ... an appeal to the public to send in "any information about possible errors in the Council’s facts and figures..."

There have been questions, however, for a long time now, as to the soundness of the scrutiny function of the District Council's committees:
Futures Forum: Transparency and process in East Devon... a summary

The external auditors to the District Council have, meanwhile, produced a report on the general state of local authority governance:

Half of officers and members see scrutiny as not challenging enough: report

Wednesday, 11 February 2015 12:22

Nearly half (43%) of senior council officers and members feel scrutiny committees are not challenging enough about the way councils operate, a survey by Grant Thornton UK has suggested.

The firm’s fourth annual review of local authority governance, All aboard?,  found that some 90% of respondents nevertheless considered that their organisations encouraged well-managed risk taking and innovation.
Grant Thornton said its survey of more than 100 officers and members also revealed a wide variation in the practice of scrutiny. Some councils’ scrutiny committees met just once during the year, while the average number of meetings was 17. One council’s committee met 66 times.
When respondents were asked who was responsible for driving good governance at their organisation, the most common responses were the chief executive and the finance director (both 25%).
The head of legal/monitoring officer was named by 19% of respondents (up from 14% in 2012/13).
Other key findings from the report included:
  • 46% of respondents said they considered backbench members had no real influence over decisions;
  • 84% said their organisations were now using or considering alternative delivery models;
  • 59% said the transition to police and crime commissioners had not had a positive impact on local partnership working arrangements;
  • 42% saw no difference in local healthcare governance as a result of councils’ new public health role;
  • The annual accounts and annual governance statement continued to expand in length, “making them even more challenging for people to read and understand, impacting on local transparency and accountability”;
  • Only 30% of cabinet positions in local authorities were held by women, while over half the survey said members did not adequately reflect the demographic profile of the local population;
  • Most survey respondents named external audit as their main source of assurance on the governance framework, rather than internal audit.  “This raises concerns that some internal audit functions are not sufficiently strategic and are not providing the broader assurance required in a complex and challenging environment.”
Paul Dossett, Partner and Head of Local Government at Grant Thornton UK LLP, said: "Though 15 years have passed since the introduction of scrutiny committees it's clear that the system has been a mixed success.  Nearly one in five of the councils surveyed said that they had returned, or were considering returning, to the traditional committee structure.  This could turn out to be a backwards step for effective scrutiny.
"Scrutiny committees can offer a valuable ‘check’ to the executive. Potentially, they can also offer a fresh perspective by taking both a long-term view of strategic issues and ‘deep dives’ into vital areas of council operations.  We know that some councils are doing this with great success so it's important that those who are struggling receive support to improve their processes so that they are not tempted to fall back in to outdated methods of scrutiny."

Local Government Lawyer - Half of officers and members see scrutiny as not challenging enough: report

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