My Experience of Scrutiny at Swansea Council

For the last couple of weeks we have had Eve McFadzean, an undergraduate from Cardiff University Politics Department, on placement with us.  This was our second politics student placement for the year – the first being Andrew Jenkins.  Both placements have been a real pleasure to host and I think that there has been a real benefit for the team having someone new in the office even if it is only for a short space of time.

Anyhow, like Andrew, we asked Eve to pen a few lines about her experience of scrutiny in Swansea and you can read them below.  Nicely done –  thanks Eve!

Overview & Scrutiny at Swansea Council 

I have been fortunate enough to have spent the last few weeks with the award winning Overview and Scrutiny department at Swansea Council. I saw this work placement as an opportunity to grasp a better understanding of the internal operations of local government, and more specifically to explore the essential yet often understated role of scrutiny itself. Here is a brief explanation of my main experiences with the team, and the valuable work they have been doing recently.

Part of my time was spent observing board meetings for the different Overview and Scrutiny sectors. During these meetings I often sat in the public gallery, which as implied is open to members of the public for observation. The term public gallery may provoke images of an intimidating tier of stands overlooking the proceedings but in fact happens to be a row of chairs behind the councillors, relevant scrutiny officer, and others who may have been called to the meeting.  The issues that I witnessed being tackled during these meetings were of satisfying relevance. In fact I felt sure that had the public gallery been filled with people eager to witness valuable examination of topics such as the development of the city centre, plans for recycling, and adult health care provisions, to name just a few, they would not have been disappointed. Understandably, topics such as these may not take priority currently in the lives of many members of the public. However, we cannot deny that they are important, and it is reassuring to know that decisions being made by our council are regularly coming under the watchful eye of a dedicated team of officers and councillors.

Whilst these meetings certainly offer an important example of scrutiny in action, it is the work that takes place in between them that is really interesting. The department takes control of the processes of evidence gathering, recommendations and task and finish groups, as well as responsibility for timetabling the development a particular issue. The evidence gathering process is an essential part of overview and scrutiny, and happens through a serious of meticulous stages. During my time with the office I joined the Children, Young People and Learning board in a visit to a local primary school to conduct a focus group, during which much valuable information was gleaned. Reports are constructed carefully, using a variety of effective methods, and a huge amount of work is put into ensuring their usefulness to the Council.

As well as the wide range of areas that are currently being addressed by the department, other important activities are taking place. Preparation is in place for ‘Our Ambition 8’, Swansea’s annual community strategy conference, as well as continuing improvements to the department’s website, Twitter and Facebook pages. The overview and scrutiny unit is relatively new compared to many others in the council, and this is demonstrated through its impressive familiarity with social media and positive attitudes towards public involvement. Last week we witnessed scrutiny in action on a national scale, with the interrogation of the Murdoch family in Parliament. This is surely a demonstration of the fact that scrutiny is an integral part of government, hard at work across the country, and yielding positive results. A quick word of caution if you ever do intend to experience a meeting for yourself however: screenings for plates of shaving foam are now in place.

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