10 Things You Should Know About Scrutiny

Whether you have just started working for a Council or have many years of service there’s a very good chance that no one has ever explained what scrutiny is all about.

We’ve recognised that we need to raise awareness amongst council staff about the scrutiny function, the work it involves, and its impact.







We have tried to bridge the gap by putting together a staff news story to explain the WHY, the HOW, and the WHAT of scrutiny, and spread the message, and the feedback has been good.

If you are working for another Council maybe you could tailor what we’ve done to improve knowledge amongst your staff about scrutiny.

So, here are ten things that every council officer should know about scrutiny:


1. Scrutiny is a statutory function and important element of the Council’s political management and governance arrangements – providing for accountability, transparency and involvement around decisions taken and the     Council’s performance.


2. In local government decision-making power rests in the hands of a small number of councillors, collectively referred to as the Cabinet (or executive). All other councillors have a responsibility to scrutinise, or hold to account, the   decision-makers.


3. The main aim of scrutiny is to act as a ‘critical friend’ to the Cabinet in order to promote better local services, policies and decisions. Scrutiny can also  consider wider issues facing the area, including the role played by other  public service partners.



4. Scrutiny arrangements are agreed by the Council, and the work of scrutiny is councillor-led. It involves groups of cross-party councillors working in a  number of different ways to hold the Cabinet to account and  examine the work of the council as well as other public services. A small team of  specialist officers based in the Guildhall provide the organisational support to deliver an effective scrutiny function.


5. Our structure involves a single overarching committee, called the Scrutiny Programme Committee, chaired by Councillor Mary Jones, which develops and agrees an annual work programme of scrutiny activities. The Work Programme is guided by the overriding principle that the work of scrutiny should be strategic and significant, focussed on issues of concern, and    represent a good use of time and resources.


6. The committee delegates specific work to various Scrutiny Panels and Working Groups enabling groups of councillors to:

  • Hold Cabinet Members to account through public question and answer sessions
  • Make evidence based proposals on topics of concern through task and finish Scrutiny Inquiry Panels that report to Cabinet
  • Monitor and challenge service performance and improvement through standing Scrutiny Performance Panels
  • Address issues of concern through one off working groups
  • Act as a ‘check’ on cabinet decisions


7. The work of scrutiny regularly involves communicating views about specific matters (e.g. concerns and  issues)  and recommendations for improvement   directly to Cabinet Members though letters or reports. Senior  officers will  routinely present reports or provide information and advice about the work you do to help scrutiny councillors understand the issues and inform debate.



8. The issues looked at by scrutiny in recent years include Tackling Poverty, School Readiness, Child & Adolescent Mental Health Services, Corporate Culture, Social Care at Home, HMOs, and Planning Services. The current work programme includes a focus on Regional Working, Swansea’s Natural Environment, Emergency Planning, Community Cohesion, Homelessness, Roads & Footway Maintenance, and Digital Inclusion. Performance Panels continue to monitor key service areas including social services and education.


9. All scrutiny meetings are open to the public (all agendas and letters are published online) and anyone living or working in Swansea can suggest a topic for scrutiny. There are also opportunities to suggest questions, and submit views. If you would just like to keep an eye on what’s going on we have webpages, a blog and a newsletter, you could even follow us on Twitter – links below.


10. Our agile approach to scrutiny was recently shortlisted for a Municipal Journal Award (otherwise known as the local government Oscars!) for Excellence in Governance & Scrutiny. Our councillors involved in the scrutiny of Child &   Family Services also picked up a ‘Team of the Year’ UK award in 2011, presented by the Centre for Public Scrutiny.



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