Tuesday 3 March 2020

Councillors move to improve Brent Council's scrutiny process

Scrutiny is more than just a band!
Following my article about failures in Brent Council scrutiny processes LINK local resident and Wembley Matters contributor Philip Grant took up the issue with councillors. Concerns centred around the Council not meeting the standards outlined in the Centre for Public Scrutiny's  Good Scrutiny Guide.  Indeed the Resources and Public Realm Scrutiny Committee's Recommendation Tracker showed only ONE response from the Cabinet to the Committee's 18 reports for 2019-20 and that was merely to 'note' the committee's recommendations on the vital issue of air quality, rather than provide any responses and action commitments.

The Community and Wellbeing Scrutiny Committee does not appear to have a Recommendation Tracker so it is difficult to assess the impact of its recommendations which are often made after very detailed questioning of officers and lead members. At the last meeting which I attended the committee members did not raise any issuers under 'Matters Arising' from the Minutes which would be one way of checking on any actions arising from recommendations.

These are the responses Philip  Grant has received which indicate that the matter is being considered by at least two councillors.

Philip writes:

Cllr. Miller  Lead Member for Community Safety and Engagement, responded to my email  but he did not say whether he was writing on behalf of the Council Leader and fellow Cabinet members, or just in a personal capacity.

Among the points in his email, I welcome his statement that:
'I wish to agree with the point that Scrutiny reports should not simply be ‘noted’. Often when there are 20+ recommendations etc it can be difficult to go into great detail in responding, but generally where an action or decision is requested I feel that the cabinet should record its response, if not its basic reasoning.'
He went on to say:
'... if cabinet disagrees with a scrutiny recommendation, then we should make an effort to say why. My officers will shortly report back to the Chair of the knife crime scrutiny task group, Cllr Kabir, on progress against her report recommendations, for this reason. I would like to see this embedded in our practice more officially.'
I have replied to Cllr. Miller, saying:
'I welcome your agreement that the Cabinet should do more than just "note" recommendations from Scrutiny Committees. The findings of those committees, who have the time to consider particular issues far more closely than the Cabinet can do, should be respected and implemented by the Leader and Cabinet, unless there are very good reasons why that should not be the case. Scrutiny is one of the important "checks and balances" which a well run Council democracy needs.'
Hopefully, the points raised by Councillors Nerva and Mashari at the Resources and Public Realm Scrutiny Committee meeting on 29 January, and Martin's highlighting of them , will see better treatment by Brent's Cabinet of recommendations by the Scrutiny Committees in future.

I have received the following email from Cllr. Matt Kelcher, Chair, Resources and Public Realm Scrutiny Committee, which suggests that Martin's efforts in highlighting this matter in his blog, and mine in sharing my concerns with councillors, may not have been a waste of time:
'Thanks for your continued interest in this matter:
I have had several meetings on the subject with the most senior officers in the last couple of weeks. I can assure you that it is something I take very seriously.

A new system will be in place for the next couple of meetings of my committee and I am sure you will see a significant improvement.'

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