20 June 2014

Overview and Scrutiny in Southwark - a new approach


Since the election last month I've taken on a new role as Chair of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee (OSC).  As the name suggests, this is the committee which has primary responsibility for scrutinising how the council is being run and looking into various issues of interest and concern.

Some parties on the council are less than happy to see a Labour Councillor taking on this role. But the real problem is that most people couldn't care less who the Chair of OSC is or which party they're a member of. To the vast majority, council committees are irrelevant to their lives which is why people rarely turn up to them. 

Having been a member of the committee for the past 4 years, I'd have to say that people weren't missing much.  In four years this supposedly powerful committee achieved very little either in terms of changing council policy or developing new ideas for delivering services.  There were some meetings where we made progress, but that was the exception rather than the rule.  Usually they consisted of political grandstanding to meet the requirements of pre-drafted opposition press releases. 

As the new Chair, I want to make some changes to way the committee is run.  Firstly, I want to make sure that OSC actually produces detailed reports which the Council's Cabinet has to respond to.  Something which simply didn't happen in the last four years.

As a Sub-committee Chair, I worked with my committee to produce recommendations for change on issues like housing repairs, domestic violence support and community wardens.  I'll continue in this vain as chair of OSC.  Two issues which spring to mind for the coming year are to examine the detail of the Administration's pledge to introduce free gym and swimming across the borough and the promise to build 11,000 new council homes.  The latter of these is already on the agenda for our first meeting on 25th June.  

I also want to ensure that the proceedings of the committee are more open.  I've already asked officers to look into streaming our meetings online and also to upload video of the meetings for future reference.  In a digital age it's surprising that this doesn't already happen and it's about time Southwark caught up.  I don't pretend that we'll be breaking any records for viewing figures, but if only a tiny number of people watched the streams that would still be an improvement on the usual attendances.  It will also allow people to tweet or share links to particular parts of meetings and generally open the process up. 

There are other issues which need ironing out to make the committee more effective at what it is supposed to do.  One is the need open up a line of communication between the residents, front-line staff and Scrutiny. Staff and service users are often the first people to see major issues arising.  When other avenues have been exhausted, I want them to feel that there is an easy way of alerting OSC.  

I'm going to work with everyone and anyone who can make a contribution to improving the way the council delivers services. That includes Cabinet Members and the Lib Dem members of the committee.  None of this is going to turn OSC into a box-office hit, but it will be a start. 

1 comment:

  1. Excellent update. Refreshingly honest and delightfully enthusiastic. I look forward to you making a real difference to the way this committee works.

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