As the judges of last year’s Scrutineer of the Year award observed, it can be hard to pin-down exactly what we mean when we talk about ‘effective scrutiny’.
On the one hand, we might view scrutiny as a purely process-oriented endeavour, at its most effective when ensuring that rules and conventions are meticulously followed at every step of a decision. On the other hand, we might want to judge the effectiveness of scrutiny by the extent to which it shapes the outcome of a decision.
Either way, it is clear that the importance of effective scrutiny is being recognised increasingly by government at all levels, whether as a procedure that inherently promotes democratic values, or as a driver of efficient outcomes, or – most likely – both.
Moreover, as the Centre for Public Scrutiny recently noted, ‘public scrutiny is now moving into another era with community-led scrutiny of local decisions.’
This shift was utilised effectively by the 2011 Scrutineer of the Year, Cllr Robert Parker (Lincolnshire County Council), who – amongst other achievements – used his position as chair of the value for money scrutiny committee to push the committee into participating in site visits across the community.
The councillor who wins this category at the 2012 LGiU and CCLA C’llr Awards will be similarly motivated by the goal of ensuring that local decisions reflect the avowed interests of local communities. As a means to this end, they will demonstrate:
- the ability to hold to account and an understanding of where it is appropriate to do so
- that they are meticulous in preparation – this councillor knows their facts and when it is appropriate to bring them up
- actions on the scrutiny committee have led to better outcomes for the community – for example, brought about a scrutiny review or policy change
It is clear, then, that in today’s society any viable definition of ‘effective scrutiny’ must refer to a process that, to some extent, involves and empowers local communities.
We might even view the current localist agenda as forming from the remnants of an earlier blast: the exploded myth of an infallible class of political elites. If so, then surely robust scrutiny of government decisions must play a central role in our stewardship of this new order.
So if you know of a councillor who has used overview and scrutiny procedures to effectively serve their local community, then please show your appreciation of their important work by nominating them for this year’s Scrutineer of the Year award. Anybody can do this by simply completing one of our new, streamlined nomination forms, which can be downloaded, along with instructions, here.
The closing date for entries in this category is 30th December, 2011.