The overview and scrutiny process introduced in 2002 as a vital part of the political management changes in local government, is not having the impact the Government expected. A report by the New Local Government Network concludes that overview and scrutiny is not yet embedded in the culture of all local councils, but it is working well in some cases. Even where a council is positive about the new decision making structures, the function can still lack the backing needed to make it effective.The role of overview and scrutiny committees is to scrutinise the Executive’s polices and the policy implementation and to suggest improvements. The research reveals that this is presenting a challenge to councils who are not required to implement the process in any prescribed way. The lack of prescription gives freedom to experiment and innovate, which has benefited a number of councils. The negative side is that this gives powerful executives and party groups the opportunity to frustrate the process and prevent change. The result is that the scrutiny function is struggling to emerge as a rigorous element of the new political management arrangements.
The report calls for a cultural shift of the whole organisation. This includes: giving overview and scrutiny a high status within the local authority and council members taking a clear lead in deciding the content of the scrutiny programme without being unduly influenced by party loyalties. Councils are urged to consider how far they have progressed in making this cultural shift. The report, includes a questionnaire for use in assessing council members attitudes to overview and scrutiny.