Supplementary memorandum by Dr Rachel
Ashworth (LGA 02(a))
Research suggests that many members remain uncertain
as to the precise definition and purpose of the scrutiny role.
Furthermore, in many authorities there was a confused response
simply in terms of the number of scrutiny committees in operation.
A significant area of focus for the research
conducted on scrutiny has been on the range of powers available
to committees and the extent to which they have been operationalised.
Evidence from the survey of Welsh councillors suggested that the
vast majority of respondents felt committees had the power to:
call witnesses, question the executive, determine their own programme
of investigations, instigate full council debates and request
a response to their reports from the executive. However, when
questioned on the extent to which these powers had been enacted,
the responses were less positive. This was particularly the case
for powers to instigate council debates and request executive
responses to investigations/reports. Members suggested that this
could be explained by the embryonic nature of scrutiny operations
in Wales and a lack of clarity in the Local Government Bill.
However, the current survey of England and Wales
is revealing similar trends in relation to the enactment of scrutiny
committee powers. Responses to date suggest that the power to
instigate council debates and request responses from the executive
to investigations/reports are still not being operationalised
even in authorities where scrutiny operations are well established.
This is a concern as these two powers are key to the impact and
effectiveness of scrutiny investigations. It is hoped that the
next stage of the research (in-depth case study observation and
interview work) will further illuminate these findings.
Research findings suggest that the level of
resources allocated to support scrutiny operations is minimal
in most, if not all, local authorities. This, in my view, currently
represents a further impediment to the effectiveness of local
scrutiny. Clearly, local authorities experience considerable resource
pressures and many are finding it difficult to resource scrutiny
training and investigations adequately. Consequently, this affects
the manner in which committees are able to undertake enquiries
and the extent to which they can seek external independent and
technical support. It should be noted that the DTLR have recently
established a "Chambers Fund" of £15 million to
"enable the chambers to enhance their scrutiny role"
and "strengthen regional accountability", thereby acknowledging
the resource implications of scrutiny at the regional level.