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SCRUTINY GUIDE WILL HELP CONTINUE PROGRESS TOWARDS EFFECTIVE ACCOUNTABILITY, SAYS AUDIT COMMISSION CHIEF

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Audit Commission chief executive, Steve Bundred, has welcomed the publication of a second edition of the Centre for...
Audit Commission chief executive, Steve Bundred, has welcomed the publication of a second edition of the Centre for Public Scrutiny's 'Good Scrutiny Guide', emphasising the increasing importance and effectiveness of scrutineers in local government and across the public sector:

He said:

'Good scrutiny is at the heart of good accountability in modern public services and government. Experience shows that our public representatives have become increasingly skilled at holding public bodies to account over recent years and this new edition of the Good Scrutiny Guide will do much to continue that development.'

According to The Good Scrutiny Guide, the four mutually reinforcing principles of effective scrutiny are:

Good public scrutiny...

1. provides 'critical friend' challenge to executive policy-makers and decision-makers

2. enables the voice and concerns of the public

3. is carried out by 'independent minded governors' who lead and own the scrutiny role

4. drives improvement in public services

The guide, originally published in 2004, details each of these principles with three sections: 'understanding the scrutiny role', 'creating an enabling environment' and 'supporting public scrutiny'. It has been updated to reflect the recent experience of non-executive scrutineers across government and the public sector, containing examples from: select committees in Westminster and their equivalents in devolved institutions; local government Overview & Scrutiny Committees; school governing bodies; police authorities and public governors from the health service.

CfPS executive director Jane Martin gave particular praise to local government scrutineers, commenting: 'Scrutineers from across the public sector can learn much from the way local government overview & scrutiny committees are embracing these four principles as a mechanism for improved local accountability. The guide and our wider work show us many examples of OSC impact in ensuring decision makers are held to account to deliver improved and responsive services. We hope the new guide will help further provide direction and give confidence to those who are performing an increasingly important and rewarding role, especially as new initiatives such as 'community calls to action' bring a potentially expanded role to OSCs.'

Tony Wright, chair of the Public Administration Select Committee and chair of CfPS added that policy makers and decision makers would also benefit from recognising the potential scrutiny brings to public services, especially in today's environment of rapid reform and widespread public disengagement:

'Executives still often fail to recognise scrutiny as a valuable ingredient in the quality and delivery of public services - yet scrutiny can be an opportunity as well as a threat. Appropriate scrutiny - and the responsiveness of executives to such scrutiny - must be built into the organisational furniture of all the policy fronts currently under review. This way an 'accountability cycle' will be created that leads to genuine improvement and the potential to strengthen the frayed 'accountability relationship' between governors and the governed.'

The Good Scrutiny Guide is available for£8 and can be ordered at www.cfps.org.uk/publications or by calling ec group on 020 8867 3298 (ISBN: 0 7488 9207 9, Stock code: IDEA031). Scrutineers of all backgrounds are encouraged to share examples of successful practice with one another through an online version of the Guide, available at www.cfps.org.uk/goodscrutinyguide

Notes

1.The Centre for Public Scrutiny is an advisory body for non-executives and their support officers from all tiers of government and the public sector. It is an independent not-for-profit limited company incorporated by the Local Government Association, the Chartered Institute of Public Finance & Accounting and the Democratic Health Network of the Local Government Information Unit.

2.CfPS holds its fourth annual conference on 28 June 2006: 'Scrutiny in an evolving public services landscape - The non-executive role in holding services to account within the commissioning and community involvement agendas'.

Non-executives across the public sector - from public body boards to local authority scrutiny committees - are enhancing the accountability and responsiveness of services through scrutiny. However today's public service and policy environments bring fresh challenges in performing this role effectively:

-non-executives are increasingly required to examine overall strategic issues, as service delivery becomes increasingly characterised by choice, commissioning and contracting rather than direct provision

-non-executives, like services themselves, are also encouraged to get closer to the citizens and communities they represent, ensuring delivery responds to demands at local and even neighbourhood level

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