External review of Scrutiny
Richmond Council’s Overview and Scrutiny (O and S) function has received mixed feedback from a leading scrutiny expert. Professor Steve Leach, a consultant with considerable experience in local government overview and scrutiny processes, has been carrying out an independent assessment of O and S to establish what is working well and what areas need to be improved.
Professor Leach met with members of the five committees, Cabinet members, Council officers and studied minutes, agendas and reports to investigate whether Scrutiny is operating effectively, contributing to improved service delivery and successfully engaging with external agencies and the public.
Overall, Professor Leach’s findings were positive. For example, he particularly praised the work of task groups. He described many of their final reports as impressive and commended their imaginative approach to the recruitment of co-opted members and the enthusiasm and commitment of members.
However, the review highlighted a number of areas that need to be improved. For example, Professor Leach found that Overview and Scrutiny Committees are still operating in a similar fashion to the ‘service committees’ they replaced seven years ago. They are also linked too closely to the structure of directorates, which can influence their priorities and agendas.
He suggested a series of changes that would help O and S to improve. These recommendations include moving away from the existing five-committee system and focusing each committee meeting on a limited number of substantive items to ensure value added. He also suggests that the role of co-opted members and the co-ordinating group should be strengthened.
In his report Professor Leach says:
"Although there are a number of problems to be overcome, the current climate in which overview and scrutiny operates in the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames provides a good basis for tackling these problems and introducing requisite changes."
The review's final report(pdf, 203KB) was published in March 2008.
In January 2009 Professor Leach was invited back to facilitate a seminar (held in March 2009) to consider the progress that had been made, and to identify areas where further change was needed. His review can be viewed here Professor Leach Review(pdf, 51KB).