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Seven ideas for improving scrutiny’s ability to challenge constructively


The power of challenge is one of the seven scrutiny super powers. Scrutiny acts as  an important and constructive check on the decision making process, helping to ensure that final decisions are better.

Here are some ideas to improve the scrutiny power of challenge that others have found helpful.

Already do them all? Have an extra biscuit with your tea – you deserve it.

1. Engage with the forward plan

When it comes to effective challenge, the forward plan is your best friend. Considering the forward plan at every meeting will help you to see what’s coming up and what you might want to look at. Having a knowledgeable officer at these discussions is also helpful as sometimes forward plans are just not detailed enough. Even better, get involved in the design of the forward plan to ensure it’s fit for scrutiny’s purpose.

2. Engage with your cabinet members

As with any aspect of scrutiny, it takes two to dance the scrutiny tango. Regular meetings between the scrutiny chairs and cabinet member are a good way to ensure the the process works for everyone. Talk to the cabinet members about what’s coming up and give them the heads up on the issues scrutiny might be interested in.

3. Create enough time for pre decision scrutiny

Forward planning can provide time for pre-decision scrutiny meetings to convene well in advance of cabinet meetings. This provides time for responses to be properly formulated, discussed with cabinet members and included as separate written reports on cabinet agendas.

4. Present your feedback in person

Whether it’s cabinet or council meetings, it can be helpful to represent the work that scrutiny has done via pre-decison or call in, in person. Not only does this ensure that the right story is being told, but it makes scrutiny’s contribution much more visible than if it is just the cabinet member summing up what they have heard.

5. Consider your call-in decision in closed session

While it’s possible to vote on call-in decisions at the end of the meeting it might be helpful to consider what to do in closed session. Specifically it should give for constructive deliberation and the opportunity to find areas of cross party consensus. This is one of the useful tips in this briefing on call ins from the centre for public scrutiny.

6. Suggest workable alternatives

As with any scrutiny scrutiny work, the aim is make a positive difference. So, be constructive in your feedback and suggest alternatives rather than just present criticisms. Even better, work with the public and others to help ensure your suggestions are well grounded.

7. Review your processes

Every council’s culture and constitution is different so regular reviews can certainly be helpful. Whether it’s pre-decision scrutiny or call-in, processes need to be regularly fine tuned to ensure they are fit for purpose. When was the last time you reviewed yours?