Councillor Martin, Chair of the Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Management Board presented the Scrutiny Annual Report for 2021/22, setting out some of the work undertaken in the past year.
Councillor Martin said that it had been his privilege to steer the work of the scrutiny function and that he had encouraged an open and transparent approach, continuing to develop our input into policy development. He wanted all overview and scrutiny members to be involved to ensure scrutiny was effective.
Councillor Martin would continue to implement the scrutiny process in accordance with the four principles of effective scrutiny:
• To provide a constructive critical friend challenge
• To amplify the voices and concerns of the public
• To be led by independent minded people who take responsibility for their role
• To drive improvement in public services
The annual report reflected the four principles which underpinned all of the work undertaken and highlighted some examples of the work covered.
· The Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Management Board scrutinised the Cabinet’s MTFP proposals and comments were included in the final budget report to Council. This was a significant role and responsibility for the Board.
· Adults, Wellbeing and Health OSC, chaired by Cllr Patricia Jopling, had continued to oversee the work undertaken by the Council and partners in respect of Covid-19 Pandemic service restoration with particular emphasis on access to GP Services, NHS Dentistry service availability, and winter preparedness. The Committee had also examined the establishment of the Integrated Care System and its role in taking over from Clinical Commissioning Groups as well as continued oversight of the Shotley Bridge Hospital project.
· Children and Young People OSC, chaired by Cllr Chris Hood until recently, had scrutinised Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services and Children and Young People’s Mental Health and Emotional Wellbeing and these important issues continued to be a focus of the committee in 2022/2023. The committee had provided comment on the New SEND Strategy and Growing up in County Durham a new children, young people and families strategy.
· Economy and Enterprise OSC, chaired by Cllr Bill Moist had considered the development of the key strategic employment sites across the county and the number and quality of jobs delivered. They had also considered how change was being managed and the Council’s pivotal role in shaping planning and development across our Towns and Villages through the Town and Villages Programme and the further development of Masterplans in the county. The committee had also provided comments as part of the Big Econ-versation to help develop the Inclusive Economic Strategy and would continue to monitor the development and delivery of this strategy as part of its 2022/23 work programme.
· Environment and Sustainable Communities OSC, chaired by Cllr Bev Coult had carried out a review to consider whether DCC should declare an Ecological Emergency. The recommendations of the committee were incorporated into a report to Cabinet in April 2022. The committee had given particular focus to the Climate Emergency Response Plan and this focus continued. The Committee had also provided comments on the Leisure Transformation Programme and the draft physical activity strategic framework.
· Safer and Stronger Communities OSC, chaired by Cllr Joyce Charlton had provided comment on the Safe Durham Partnership Plan and County Durham and Darlington Fire & Rescue Service’s Community Risk Management Plan.
Councillor Martin gave thanks to the members of the overview and scrutiny committees, the chairs and vice-chairs, co-optees, and the scrutiny team for their continued hard work throughout the year.
Councillor Crute thanked the scrutiny officers for all of their hard. He referred to the function of scrutiny which was to hold the executive to account and expressed concern when scrutiny were given the opportunity to participate in work that offered up services for cuts. He went on to explain that he had made his position clear at Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Management Board that scrutiny was not there to do the work of Cabinet, as scrutiny were there to scrutinise the decisions made by Cabinet. Councillor Crute had asked the question as to which scrutiny committees would be involved in this process as he was aware that some had decided not to be involved and he believed that there should be a consistent approach. He stressed that it was important to get this right as thought it was a step to turn governance on it’s head and a dangerous step forward. He asked for the thoughts of the Chair of Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Management Board on this.
In response, Councillor Martin said that he wanted to have an open process which empowered the voice of members and was part of the development of policy. He said that scrutiny played an important function to be a critical friend and holding the executive to account. With regards to accountability Councillor Martin said that all members were responsible for the budget as Cabinet put it together to present to full Council where all members have a vote. Councillor Martin was keen to change the way in which scrutiny were involved and that members could have a say in what they wanted to see in the budget. He referred to the four fundamental principles of scrutiny and wanted each committee to take control of their own destiny as he was not a dictator of scrutiny. He advised that Councillor Crute had been sent a report by e-mail which outlined which scrutiny committees were involved in this process.
Councillor Marshall enquired as to which Cabinet members would participate in this process and attend the scrutiny meetings to have meaningful discussions.
Councillor Martin replied that he did not have that information to hand but that each scrutiny committee would be working with the Cabinet portfolio holders in the best way they saw fit.
That the report be received.