Scrutiny & Accountability: From ‘ticking boxes’ to promoting innovation through collaboration

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Wednesday, August 26th 2015
Author: Mark Ewbank

From Parliament to the devolved governments and local authorities, a ‘separation of powers’ exists which is the cornerstone of ‘good government’. In practical terms, this means that out of those who are elected, only a small number of these actually take decisions. The rest of the Elected Members are then duty-bound to then hold the decision-makers to account. How can these Members then put this to an effective use and add value in a positive way?

Above all, scrutiny and accountability plays a fundamental role in good decision-making. Without oversight, review and examination of the policies and strategies of any decision-making body, poor decisions will be inevitable, costing time and resource to rectify. Weak scrutiny equals poor decision-making.

Not only is scrutiny so essential to the smooth day-to-day operation of these institutions, backbencher functions such as overview and scrutiny in local government or Select Committees in the Commons can operate as sounding boards for new ideas or, more often than not, innovate on their own and recommend new policy. Whilst very few people make the connection, scrutineers have often made big impacts when conducting investigations; recent national examples include the smoking ban, which was mostly informed by the Commons Health Select Committee investigation in 2005.

However, without an effective and independent voice, scrutiny can be silenced quite quickly and this is why it is so crucial to operate the function in an effective way, in order to ensure a backbencher’s voice can be heard in a constructive, visible and effective way. Westco’s Member Development Days on the 3rd and 4th of September will we be working with councillors from across the country to maximise the impact of overview and scrutiny in local government. Using Westminster’s model of effective scrutiny, we hope to communicate the tools we use to inspire Members to use accountability with impact, in order to ensure good government.

Westco are holding two member development training days in London on Thursday 3rd September and Exeter on Friday 4th September. For more information please contact