Embrace benefits of public scrutiny, councils told

photo of a Town Hall

Councils are encouraged to embrace scrutiny of their spending decisions to achieve value for money, improve services and address the public’s concerns in new guidance published today (7 May 2019).

New statutory guidance for local and combined authorities in England stresses the role of their scrutiny committees – made up of councillors – in holding them to account over local decision-making.

Developed by the government in consultation with the public sector, the guidance outlines what effective scrutiny looks like and the positives it can bring to local authorities.

Key points include:

  • councils should adopt a position of sharing any information asked for by their scrutiny committee, and if information can’t be shared in public they should consider sharing it in a closed session
  • scrutiny committees should be constructive ‘critical friends’ with a vital role of amplifying the voices and concerns of the public when councils take important decisions
  • local authorities should also consider whether contracts with companies delivering services should include a requirement to supply information to scrutiny committees

Minister for Local Government, Rishi Sunak MP, said:

Scrutiny committees form an integral part of the work of councils in delivering services by acting on behalf of residents to hold councillors and staff to account for the important decisions they make.

That is why I have set out new guidance to ensure authorities and residents can reap the benefits of effective scrutiny, by instilling a culture that welcomes challenge.

Jacqui McKinlay, Chief Executive of the Centre for Public Scrutiny, said:

We welcome government’s timely revision of its statutory guidance on scrutiny, and particularly its focus on leadership buy-in, culture and behaviours that are so central to ensuring that effective overview and scrutiny can operate, and make an impact, at local level.

We look forward to working closely with our colleagues at the Local Government Association and individual councils to use the new guidance as an excellent opportunity to reflect and review their current approach to scrutiny”.

/Public Release. View in full here.