It's about scrutiny. A few 'whys': Why would those managing a public service/asset wish to avoid scrutiny? Why is this a major problem in local governance? Why did the Rotherham scandal happen? Many more 'whys' along the same lines.
Scrutiny is a major safeguard for the public. So why has it been abandoned?
Scrutiny is not simply a gathering of information and views from a section of the public which are then processed by professionals with total authority in their field. It is about independent people including those directly concerned and well-informed, putting questions some of which will be searching, and getting answers from those in a position of responsibility. When Blacka's Reserve Advisory Group (RAG) was meeting four times a year it was possible to ask these searching questions, much though the managers disliked it. It was possible in this way to reach a conclusion about what was being done and the judgements of managers. It was possible to hear about plans before they had gone too far to alter. That's almost certainly why the RAG stopped; fear of the 'public gaze' and a desire to avoid being accountable for decisions taken. Well before then managers had tried various means to avoid searching questions from the public, including packing the RAG meetings with agenda items driven from above, taking an inordinate amount of time over items they felt comfortable with, putting a rigid time limit on potentially difficult agenda items, talking fast and quiet in the hope that things would not be noticed and challenged.
Amid general concerns about inadequate scrutiny in Sheffield City Council its Director of Policy Performance and Communications is conducting a review of Scrutiny. An interim report was presented to Sheffield's Scrutiny Overview Board on 24th September
The suspicion is always that democratic scrutiny is an inconvenience to those in post. They simply don't like people asking questions about decisions they're making. And that's sometimes because there's something not quite right about a decision and the way it's been taken.
Another recent quote.
There should be nothing threatening about this; good officers should welcome challenge as an essential part of local democracy.
According to the Centre for Public Scrutiny too much local decision making is inadequately monitored.
- How do I know that this council, and those with whom it works, will be aware when significant problems rear their head – and do I have confidence that this information will be acted on?
- Does scrutiny have access to information which will allow me to confidently challenge, on the basis of independent evidence, the council’s assertions about the quality of a service?
- Do council officers and officers from other agencies accept that scrutiny has this role to play?