Sunday 19 May 2024
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Nottingham

City council reveals plan to address ‘superficial and inadequate’ scrutiny

If the overall improvement plan does not work, the Government could step in to control the authority’s spending process.

Nottingham City Council is to overhaul the way its executive is held to account after an independent report condemned its current scrutiny as “superficial and inadequate”.

The Labour-run authority has revealed its action plan to address issues raised in the Centre for Governance and Scrutiny (CfGS) review, conducted earlier this year to explore a string of issues across the council.

The authority has been given three years by Government to improve its financial stability following a series of problems, including setting up failed energy firm Robin Hood Energy at an estimated £38 million loss.

The Labour administration set up a Recovery and Improvement plan last month, part of which included a re-written constitution on how the authority is managed, as well as a re-evaluation of its scrutiny process.

Scrutiny processes within councils are used to provide checks and balances on important policy and financial decisions made by senior councillors and officers.

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If the overall improvement plan does not work, the Government could step in to control the authority’s spending process.

The Government has already told the council it is looking for a “credible strategy” for long-term transformation.

Now the council has revealed how it will address concerns around scrutiny, described by the CGfS report as largely “absent in its duty” to challenge the executive.

This, the report stated, was because of the impact of a “legacy culture” for the dominant Labour Party, and because of issues with “group loyalty”.

At present, the council is made up of 50 Labour councillors, three from the Nottingham Independents and a further two Conservatives.

New documents reviewed by Wednesday’s Overview and Scrutiny committee state a review is being “undertaken immediately” to address the scrutiny concerns.

Work programmes will be altered to assess two “substantive items” in each meeting, with the focus shifted towards the council’s recovery and transformation activity and current financial challenges.

Regular meetings will be set up between scrutiny chairs, senior management and the executive, to assess any “barriers or challenges”, and scrutiny leaders will be invited to the Executive Board to present their findings.

Scrutiny chairs will also be given more authority within the council, with scrutiny to become a “visible part of council policy making and oversight”.

And executive members, including the council leader, will be requested to regularly attend scrutiny meetings, answer questions and be held to account.

This, council leader David Mellen stressed in the meeting, currently happens regularly.

A number of the changes will be linked to the development of a scrutiny protocol, which is due before the overview and scrutiny meeting in January.

Members of the committee, including Councillor Sajid Mohammad (Lab), welcomed the action plan as the first stage of changes to the process.

He said: “It’s a solid start, but I think it’s a bit too internal-looking.

“If we’re really going to cope with the challenges the council is in, scrutiny has a major role but must have greater synergy between other committees.

“We’ve got to make sure we win back the confidence of residents about service and value. It’s an excellent start but there’s a bit more to it.”

However, commenting in Wednesday’s meeting, council leader David Mellen (Lab) said he did not “recognise” some elements of the CGfS findings.

He said: “It suggests there is an unwillingness from the executive to come and engage with [the committee] but I don’t recognise that, I think it’s historic rather than current.

“Today you have had five members of the executive here. If at every meeting you want members of the executive here, we will be here.”

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