Changes in crime and disorder legislation now give councillors extended powers to scrutinise the functions of crime and disorder partnerships. Guidance from the Home Office describes the unique role councilors play in local decision making and in providing a clear line of democratic accountability between decision-making and the people they serve.
The guidance document emphasizes that scrutiny, done well, can always add value. Public services can be improved by an independent eye providing balanced, researched and constructive ideas. Part of that success, however, depends on choosing the right topic and understanding the landscape.
Focusing on neighbourhoods can be very effective, because they are important for both community safety and councillors, but understanding how to make the most of this connection may need some careful investigation. As a result of the development of neighbourhood policing every neighbourhood has a policing team and good results are being produced by those councils who have linked their neighbourhood management with ward councilors and the police team.
The new confidence agenda for councils and the police also presents real opportunities for scrutiny. As well as being a shared responsibility across the two organisations, it’s also an area that councillors should have a unique perspective.
As the police and partners develop an increased focus on communicating and engaging with the public, scrutiny may be able to provide practical help and suggestions. This might draw on community knowledge, or help link the police with the experience of other services in the area that have been successful at building a connection with local people. Police authorities are tasked to hold the Chief Constable to account for performance against the confidence measure, so this might also be a fruitful area for joint scrutiny with the police authority.
The Guidance document is available from the HO.