Agenda item

Overview and Scrutiny at Thurrock: A Review (Decision 110537)


Councillor Gerrish introduced the report, as Chair of the Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee and Chair of the Scrutiny Review. He began by thanking Democratic Services for their hard work on the project, and stated that it had been a lengthy project due to delays caused by COVID-19 and the need for genuine cross-party participation, particularly from scrutiny Chairs, members from scrutiny, and members of the Executive. He thanked all Members for their participation in the project, and stated that all suggestions raised at the Executive-Scrutiny Workshop had been incorporated within the recommendations. He stated that the aim of the review had been to improve scrutiny, and ensure that scrutiny recommendations resulted in action. He added that although the functions would remain separate, with the Executive making decisions, the wish of the review had been to ensure that scrutiny had a full role, including policy development. He highlighted page 22 of the agenda, which contained the recommendations for the review, which had been divided into structural recommendations that could be implemented now, and developmental recommendations that would take longer to implement. He stated that one of the most important recommendations was the adoption of the Executive-Scrutiny Protocol which would formalise operating guidelines and introduce new ways of working. He stated that the Protocol would provide more formal recognition of scrutiny’s feedback at Cabinet and also ensure scrutiny powers, such as invitation of Portfolio Holder’s to scrutiny meetings, were developed. He stated that the Executive-Scrutiny Protocol highlighted processes that already existed at Thurrock, such as the Chairs Letter to the Executive, but would ensure that scrutiny could have a larger role within the Council. He stated that due to limitations the review had not considered how members of the public could become more involved in scrutiny, but this could be looked into at a later date, as this report introduced a framework which could be built upon.

Councillor Halden thanked Councillor Gerrish for the report and stated that he felt good scrutiny and good opposition created good governance. He was pleased to see the report and felt that an improved scrutiny function would ensure that the Executive made good decisions, with all Members included in the process. He felt that the scrutiny function depended on individual Chairs working with the Executive, but welcomed the report and its recommendations. He asked if an additional recommendation could be added for the Monitoring Officer to convene a Constitution Working Group in 2021 to ensure the recommendations from the report were embedded within the Council.

Councillor Coxshall again thanked Councillor Gerrish and stated that scrutiny Chairs also needed to work with officers on reports that came before their committee, as well as working with the Portfolio Holder if political questions needed to be answered. He felt that it was a good idea for the scrutiny Chairs to invite the Portfolio Holder before the Committee once a year to undertake a deep dive regarding certain issues. He added that cross-party scrutiny Chairs should also work together to ensure scrutiny was working as a whole.

Councillor Hebb welcomed the report, and agreed with all recommendations. He stated that the Protocol and recommendations would improve clarity regarding the hand-over from the scrutiny function to the Executive. He added that each Chair had a different character and would lead their scrutiny committee differently, so this should be considered when implementing the report. He felt that although the report and recommendations were good, it was a shame that the process had to be formalised, as this would potentially lose some individual characteristics from each Chair and committee. He agreed that Portfolio Holders should attend scrutiny meetings, as he felt this would improve relationships between the Portfolio Holder and their shadow, and would lead to better working. He agreed with the additional recommendation from Councillor Halden regarding the Constitution Working Group looking at the recommendations.

Councillor Huelin thanked officers and the Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee for their hard work on the report, and felt that the conversation at the Executive-Scrutiny Workshop had been open and led to greater understanding and good recommendations. She felt pleased that recommendations 3 and 4 had been included in the report, and welcomed the conversation between Portfolio Holders and Shadow Portfolio Holders. She also welcomed recommendation 9 regarding the reduction of ‘to note’ reports at scrutiny, as this could free up time for proper scrutinising. Councillor Hebb questioned whether the ‘to note’ reports which were emailed to Members could come before public committee if necessary.

Councillor Gerrish stated that different scrutiny Chairs did have different styles, but felt that the Executive-Scrutiny Protocol would ensure Chairs had a clearer understanding of their powers and role, which would be beneficial for the wider Council. He stated that he was happy include the additional recommendation regarding the Constitution Working Group considering the implementation of the report in 2021, and felt this might improve the ongoing conversation. He replied to Councillor Hebb’s question that the Chairs would receive specific guidance regarding ‘to note’ reports, and hoped that Chairs would understand when a report needed to come before Committee for public interest, compared to a report which had no real impact on scrutiny’s work and could be separately emailed.

The Leader summarised and felt that it was good to see this report, and hoped it would have a continued impact. He felt that scrutiny should not be a ‘talking shop’ and should be a part of effective decision-making at the Council. He added that it was good to see a more formalised process for scrutiny comments to get to Cabinet, as well as a strengthening of the relationship between Portfolio Holder and Shadow Portfolio Holder. He also felt it was a good recommendation for the scrutiny function to have oversight of the motions process, and ensure that each motion is taken seriously and actioned. The Leader supported the additional recommendation made by Councillor Halden regarding the Constitution Working Group, which would ensure all recommendations were enacted.

RESOLVED: That Cabinet:

1. Approved the recommendations as set out in Appendix 1 as they relate to Cabinet functions, and noted those that pertain to the Overview and Scrutiny function.

2. Approved the draft Executive-Scrutiny Protocol, as attached at Appendix 1.

Reason for decision: as outlined in the report
This decision is subject to call in

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