As many new councillors are getting to grips with their new roles and many more old hands are getting back up to speed, here’s a reminder of the superpowers that scrutiny councillors have to change the world.
Sometimes it’s easy to get lost in the process, in the paperwork and the meetings, but don’t forget what scrutiny can do to help the good citizens of the area.
Of course scrutiny has some formal legal powers, but it’s the powers that come from the drive, creativity and commitment of the scrutiny councillors themselves that are far more interesting.
Far better than simply the legal powers – these are the superpowers, and there are seven of them.
The seven scrutiny superpowers
1. The power of transparency
By asking questions and publishing the answers, by asking for reports and putting them in the public domain, scrutiny has the special ability to make local government more open and transparent.
2. The power of accountability
By requiring cabinet members and other decision makers to give an account of themselves in public, by asking the questions that the public want the answers to and by publicly highlighting both concerns and praise, scrutiny is able to ensure that the public interest stays at the heart of decision making.
3. The power of participation
By inviting the public and others outside the council to share their views and work with councillors, scrutiny can ensure that people’s voices are heard, that their involvement makes difference and that the issues that matter to citizens are acted on by decision makers.
4. The power of solutions
By taking time to explore difficult and challenging issues in depth and talking to a wide range of people, scrutiny has the ability to find solutions to the most difficult policy problems and to suggest ways to improve the services that matter to people.
5. The power of challenge
By acting as a critical friend, scrutiny can ensure that cabinet decisions are made as they should be – in the public interest. Scrutiny can look at cabinet reports before decisions are taken and call-in decisions once they have been made.
6. The power of assurance
By acting as a watchdog and by ensuring that services are delivered as they should be, scrutiny can give the public confidence that the local council operates with integrity and performs effectively.
7. The power of capacity
By working on the things that really matter to the council and the public, scrutiny can make sure that all of the resources of the council are used to maximum effect. In particular scrutiny can harness the power of the majority of councillors who are not in the Cabinet.
That’s the superpowers of scrutiny right there.
PS. Of course it’s important to be wary of the seven scrutiny kryptonites as these can neutralise scrutiny super powers. Read about them here.