Headlines: September 28th, 2005

A new report details ways in which local authority overview and scrutiny committees can work with the voluntary and community sector to improve service delivery and encourage civil renewal. The guide – ‘On the Radar’ – is published by the Centre for Public Scrutiny.It says joint working is mutually beneficial because the voluntary sector can strengthen the local government scrutiny function, by providing or facilitating more representative evidence for scrutiny reviews. At the same time scrutiny committees give voluntary and community groups the chance to work directly with elected councillors and to influence decision-making and policy development. The report says that for relationships between the two parties to reach their full potential they have to be mainstreamed in a council’s corporate strategy.

The report offers practical guidance both to the voluntary sector and overview and scrutiny committees on developing effective relationships. It includes an assessment of the current state of joint working, practical examples of how effective it can be, recommendations on to work towards even greater combined impact on services and renewal and quick guides to introduce both sides where they have previously been unfamiliar with one another’s work. The best practice examples include a Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council scrutiny review into domestic violence.

Centre for Public Scrutiny Advisory Board Member, Robin Stonebridge, who also chairs the Rotherham authority, described the important impact joint working had during the review, which had led to significant service improvements:

“By working together, the VCS and OSCs produce ‘laminated influence’, influence that cannot be ignored. Partnerships can bring about massive shifts in both policy and service provision and give voice to sections of our communities that are hidden, hard-to-reach and marginalised, ” he said. In the Rotherham case, voluntary partners provided a wealth of knowledge and experience and important access to victims and service users.

CfPS Executive Director Dr Jane Martin, who led the report alongside partners at De Montfort University, said developing the relationship between a local authority’s overview and scrutiny function and voluntary and community organisations could not be a bolted-on or marginalized activity and would flourish only if it was embedded in a corporate strategy which provided corporate resources and support.

The report will be distributed to scrutiny committees in all English local authorities as well as to voluntary sector organizations through the NACVS newsletter.