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Ministers shun call for more money for scrutiny

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The government has rejected recommendations from MPs to increase the resources available to council scrutiny committees.

This follows a report by the communities and local government select committee in December, which said councils should be required to publish a summary of resources allo­cated to scrutiny, using expenditure on executive support as a comparator.

Ministers also rejected a proposal that the requirement for a statutory scrutiny officer should be extended to all councils and be given a seniority and profile equivalent to the council’s corporate management team.

In its response, the government said: “Many councils do not have dedicated scrutiny support staff - officers work on issues and engage with committees as part of the flow of business - so this would make quantifying the support that scrutiny committees receive very difficult. In the government’s view, the quality of the support is the more important issue.

“The government firmly believes that each individual authority is best-placed to decide for itself how to support scrutiny most effectively.”

It added: “Each council is best-placed to know which arrangements will suit its own individual circumstances. It is not a case of one size fits all.”

Ministers did though accept a recommendation that they should issue new guidance which would limit cabinet members’ involvement in the scrutiny, other than as witnesses, and could clarify committees’ powers to access document.

This would also state that support officers should be able to operate independently and provide impartial advice.

Ministers accepted a recommendation that scrutiny must be “a fundamental part of any deal and that it must be adequately resourced and supported”, but again declined to specify what resources this should receive.

Ed Hammond, director of the Centre for Public Scrutiny, said: “There are no real surprises in the government’s response. There has been a tendency for government guidance to focus on bureaucracy and rules rather than values and culture and we want to avoid that, but we agree it is for each council to reflect on and explore its approach to scrutiny.”

 

 

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