To receive a verbal update on the activities and work plan of the Gloucestershire Economic Growth Scrutiny Committee.
Cllr Kevin Cromwell, Chairman of the Gloucestershire Economic Growth Scrutiny Committee, gave an update on the activities and work plan proposals of the committee.
He informed the committee that a work planning session involving lead opposition members and senior officers had been held on 21 November 2018. At that meeting, it was suggested the following topics form part of the Scrutiny Committee’s 2019/20 work plan.
· An update from GFirst LEP on local activities relating to Brexit
· Vision 2050 (including an update on the Cotswold Waterpark Trust)
· Issues impacting on the future of the High Street
· Mobile Phone Connectivity
On 14 February 2019, the committee met at the Forest of Dean District Council Offices, where members received a presentation on local arrangements relating to the economic growth and regeneration of the District and on the work of the Forest Economic Partnership. Topics considered at the meeting included: road congestion; rail strategy; broadband/mobile black spots; employment issues; and education.
The next local meeting will be held at Stroud District Council on 30 October 2019. .
Noting the request for an update on local preparations following the Brexit referendum in June 2016, members were informed that, in recent months, the Scrutiny Committee had raised increasing concerns about the lack of information on how the County might be preparing for the impact on the economic climate of Gloucestershire following the Brexit decision (if any) on 29 March 2019.
Whilst it was accepted information was limited, members remained anxious to explore the uncertainties surrounding the Brexit decision. It had therefore been agreed that a discussion would form part of the agenda at this afternoon’s scrutiny committee meeting.
Cllr Cromwell thanked Cllr Stowe (as Chairman of the Joint Committee) and Mike Dawson (as Chairman of the Senior Officer Group) for attending the scrutiny meeting to note the discussion.
Seeking the views of the Joint Committee, Cllr Cromwell, was informed discussions were being held at local level and would be shared at wider level pending any developments.
Responding to questions on the role and function of the scrutiny committee in response to Brexit and other scrutiny work plan proposals, Head of Democratic Services, Simon Harper, presented information on proposed changes to the County Council’s Scrutiny function at the County Council.
Members were advised that a Peer Challenge undertaken at the County Council in June 2018 had identified the need to review the Council’s scrutiny arrangements in an aid to improvement and to ensure effective and transparent governance.
With the agreement of the County Overview and Scrutiny Management Committee on 28 September 2018, members were invited to attend and participate in three workshops, led by Ann Reeder from the Centre for Public Scrutiny. Ann Reeder facilitated at both sessions with support from Paul Dean, former Statutory Scrutiny Officer at East Sussex County Council, and John Cade, Institute of Local Government Studies (INLOGOV) and former Director of Scrutiny at Birmingham City Council.
From the review, a number of key principles had been identified:
a) There should be ‘parity of esteem’ between executive and scrutiny members. The executive should be open to scrutiny, recognising that this relies on effective working relationships and trust on both sides.
b) Scrutiny committees should be non-political and constructively challenge the ‘issues’ and outcomes, rather than act as a mechanism for scoring political points.
c) Effective scrutiny does not act as a rubber stamp but rather needs to set its own agenda. This means that scrutiny should not be directed by the Cabinet or full Council. It may be that full Council asks for an issue to be examined but such requests should not dominate scrutiny agendas and it is up to individual scrutiny committees to determine how and when reviews are undertaken. Referrals from Council should be considered at the start of scrutiny meetings as part of the work planning process and take into account available capacity.
d) Members have a personal responsibility to ensure that they are adequately prepared for meetings. Where necessary, this includes undertaking background research.
e) Members should ask probing questions and not abandon issues in the face of vague answers. They should ask follow-up questions seeking more information, including timelines.
f) There needs to be wider awareness of national issues. For example, considering the impact of the Government’s Fairer Funding Review for Local Government and the imminent Adult Social Care Green Paper.
The Head of Democratic Services reported that the Council’s scrutiny structure currently comprised five committees: Overview and Scrutiny Management, Health and Care Scrutiny (with co-opted district members), Children and Families, Environment and Communities, and Economic Growth (with co-opted district members). The Audit and Governance Committee sat within the ‘scrutiny family’ of committees in the Council’s Constitution and the Council was the host authority for the Police and Crime Panel, a joint scrutiny committee comprising County Councillors, District Councillors and Independent Members.
Although the new committee structure did not receive universal agreement, the majority view, with the support of members from each of the political groups produced some significant outcomes. One of the outcomes had been that the Economic Growth Scrutiny Committee, involving co-opted members from each of the Districts, formed a key part of the agreement that had been reached with the District Leaders when the Joint Economic Growth Committee was established in 2015. Notwithstanding this, it had been suggested that the remit of the committee be widened to include the Environment aspects of the Environment and Communities Scrutiny Committee, including infrastructure and highways.
Responding to concerns about the impact of the proposed changes and the lack of engagement from the districts on the proposals, the Head of Democratic Services assured members that, pending the support of Full Council at its meeting on 27 March 2019, the intention would be to seek the agreement of the District Authorities on how the proposals would be implemented. He explained that the proposed new structure was still in its initial stages and that there was no intention to disband any of the committees, but to restructure their portfolios. A discussion on proposals affecting the Gloucestershire Economic Growth Scrutiny Committee would be subject to a discussion with the Chief Executives at each authority and conformity with the Inter Authority Agreement that existed.