Monday, June 23, 2008

City should learn from County on Scrutiny

Conservative controlled Cambridgeshire County Council scrutiny process has been recognised as an example of best practice in a national awards scheme judged by an independent panel of judges. The award scheme – launched by The Centre for Public Scrutiny – celebrates the achievements of local authorities for the way they hold decision makers to account – Cambridgeshire picked up the top award in the financial scrutiny category.

County Councillors Lister Wilson, who chairs the Council’s Scrutiny Management Group and Councillor Michael Williamson, who chairs the authority’s Corporate Services Scrutiny Committee, travelled to London to be presented with the award.Councillor Wilson, said: “This award is a fitting recognition for the way scrutiny works in Cambridgeshire and how we involve members of all the political groups in monitoring and informing the decision making processes of the County Council.”

If only the City Council could take note. Decision making in local Councils changed dramatically after the Local Government Act 2000, with decision by committee being replaced with decision by Executive Councillor, with decisions scrutinised by scrutiny committees. In the County, this process is working well - opposition Councillors can chair the scrutiny committees which really can hold Executive Councillors to account. In the City, the scrutiny committees are chaired by the ruling Liberal Democrats, 'backbench' Lib Dems are apparantly told which way to vote in the committees regardless of whether or not they agree with a proposal, and the whole thing frequently appears to be a pointless rubber stamping exercise. Its no wonder the City scrutiny arrangements were derided by Lib Dems on the County - the City could be doing much better.

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