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What is scrutiny for?

"All right, shall we agree to note the contents in the report?" Setting up Scrutiny Committees is a statutory requirement as is that they should look at reports on particular subjects. Usually the process is absurdly expensive with several full time "scrutiny co-cordinators" being employed to organise the meetings - not to mention the time taken up by other Council Officers in writing long reports that say as little as possible. Often the problem is not that the subjects on the agenda are unimportant but that rather they are so vast it is difficult to know where to begin: "Our main item this evening is scrutinising the Council's £500 million budget..."

A tight grip should be kept on the costs of the scrutiny process and the time spent on box ticking items kept to a minimum. But I am not among the cynics who regard the whole thing as inevitably worthless. London Councils have produced a collection of success stories. That is the right approach looking at substance rather than process.

In Ealing a scrutiny committee held "focus groups" with Year 11 school pupils as part of their work on the type of apprenticeships being offered,

In Enfield, the Health Scrutiny Panel, which has power to summon senior Primary Care Trust representatives, investigated a scandal that the NHS had refused to employ a specialist nurse for Parkinson's sufferers - even though the local branch of the Parkinson's Disease Society had raised £27,000 to pay for it. The nurse is now employed.


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