The Democratic Services Manager
introduced the report and stated this update detailed the overview
and scrutiny project and the work that had been done since the
January Corporate Overview and Scrutiny meeting. He began by
discussing Part 3 of the briefing note and described how this would
be a desktop exercise to compare Thurrock with other councils based
on their geographical location and organisation. He outlined that
part 2 of the briefing note focussed on how the Committee and other
overview and scrutiny Members could engage with each other in the
form of a symposium; and described how part 1 outlined the work
that Members could undertake with Cabinet in the form of a
workshop. The Democratic Services Manager asked Members for their
input on the topics that could be discussed at the symposium and
workshop. He added that the briefing note proposed a structure, but
asked if Members would like to add or remove any items. He also
asked Members who they would like to lead the symposium, as this
could be done by either a member of the Democratic Services team or
an external representative for political neutrality. He summarised
and stated that this work would be ongoing, and the Democratic
Services team would update and make changes following comments from
The Chair opened the debate and asked if Democratic Services were planning to undertake both a symposium and a workshop, or if it was a case of ‘either/or’. The Democratic Services Manager replied that both would be undertaken if agreed by Members. The Chair stated that he felt it was a good idea to start informally with a small workshop which could open the conversation, and then discuss the formal elements such as what the Constitution would allow. He drew the Committee’s attention to Part 1 of the briefing note and stated that this could open discussion between Portfolio Holder’s and overview and scrutiny Members, and stated that Cabinet Members currently had a blanket invite to attend overview and scrutiny meetings. He then asked if Cabinet would like to receive written responses, as well as overview and scrutiny Members attending Cabinet.
Councillor Fletcher stated that he felt Part 1 of the briefing note was a good idea as it involved both Portfolio Holder’s and overview and scrutiny Members which could open a dialogue. He then raised a point regarding which decisions could become recommendations taken to Cabinet. He finally highlighted Part 3 and asked if Democratic Services could look East to boroughs such as Havering and Dagenham, as well as to Southend. He also stated that comparing with Essex County Council may be difficult, as their structure and organisation were significantly different compared to Thurrock.
Councillor Hague stated that as part of the democratic process, overview and scrutiny committee’s reviewed and commented on reports before they were taken to Cabinet, and stated that in the past, Portfolio Holder’s had attended overview and scrutiny meetings. He asked what had changed that meant Cabinet Members no longer attended. The Democratic Services Manager replied that when overview and scrutiny committee’s make recommendations to Cabinet, they are not always in the written record due to timings with agenda publishing. He commented that often Portfolio Holder’s and officers give verbal updates regarding overview and scrutiny recommendations, but there would be no evidence of this in the written record. He stated that he would like a process created where overview and scrutiny recommendations made to Cabinet could be recorded.
Councillor Duffin stated that if Portfolio Holder’s attended overview and scrutiny meetings, they would have more time to discuss their report and focus on the detail. He felt that he would like to see Portfolio Holder’s attending overview and scrutiny meetings as they could begin discussions and consider the minutiae of reports. He added that if overview and scrutiny committees were disregarded by Cabinet, it could be an option to limit the number of overview and scrutiny committees, or limit how often they meet.
The Democratic Services Manager replied that there was a facility in place for overview and scrutiny Chairs to attend Cabinet meetings, but felt there could be a way to institutionalise this in the democratic process. He also added that in the past there had been fewer overview and scrutiny committees, but more Members sat on them, but felt that with more committees, there was more time to discuss reports. He added that the symposium would give Democratic Services the sense from Members on which way they would like to go.
The Chair asked how overview and scrutiny could become more active. He then stated that a comparative exercise would be interesting as Thurrock could learn from other Councils how they run their overview and scrutiny system, for example how their call-in procedure works or how overview and scrutiny could delay the implementation of decisions. Councillor Fletcher asked if the timing of overview and scrutiny meetings could be looked into, so recommendations made at overview and scrutiny could be written into Cabinet reports. Councillor Duffin stated he felt the project was a good idea as it could give Members a say in how the Council was run.
Councillor Hague added that although Cabinet Members did not have to listen to recommendations made at overview and scrutiny, it would give them a better democratic mandate if they did. He stated that by listening to overview and scrutiny, the Leader and Cabinet had more power and could make more informed decisions which would be better for residents. The Chair echoed Councillor Hague’s sentiments and added that by scrutinising decisions, you could find problems before the decision was implemented. Councillor Fletcher asked if Democratic Services could look into which overview and scrutiny committees Members wanted, and if all key areas were covered by the current overview and scrutiny committees.
The Chair summarised and stated that the Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee gave their support to Democratic Services to move forward with the process.