What is Scrutiny?
Overview and Scrutiny - often referred to as Scrutiny - has been a statutory function for local authorities since 2000. Scrutiny was established to hold Cabinet to account for its decisions, and also to contribute to evidenced-based policy-making in the council.
The council's Scrutiny function looks closely at the services and issues that affect local people and ways to improve them. Scrutiny councillors can be any elected member not on Cabinet.
They have a responsibility as community leaders to involve local people in identifying issues of concern. They can then review these concerns by gathering information and making recommendations based on what they have found out.
They are not restricted to council services - they can look at anything that has an impact on the quality of life of people in St Helens Borough. However, unlike Cabinet, scrutiny councillors do not hold any decision-making powers.
Scrutiny at St Helens Borough Council
There are three Overview and Scrutiny Committees made up of non-cabinet councillors, each with its own remit.
They are coordinated by and report to the Overview and Scrutiny Commission, whose membership includes the chair of each committee as well as other non-cabinet councillors.
At a senior management level, there are scrutiny link officers who provide information and act as a link between each committee and the various council directorates.
Each year an annual report is produced that covers the work of Scrutiny during the previous 12 months.
Current Scrutiny committees
The council operates the following Scrutiny committees: Adult Social Care and Health; Children and Young People Services; and Place Services.
Overview and Scrutiny Commission
The Overview and Scrutiny Commission is responsible for all overview and scrutiny functions on behalf of the council, including to appoint and work with the individual overview and scrutiny committees to develop and agree the work programmes. The Commission consider's the council's budget strategy and budget proposals made by the Cabinet. The Commission also monitors the achievement of the "Be a responsible Council" priority as set out in Our Borough Strategy 2021-30.
The Commission consists of 12 councillors, including the three Committee Chairs. In addition, two Church representatives are voting co-optees on the Commission.
Find more details of meetings of the Commission.
Adult Social Care and Health Scrutiny Committee
The Adult Social Care and Health (ASCH) Committee covers the provision of adult social care and items relating to health services including public health. The Committee also engages with, and responds to, formal and informal NHS or relevant health provider consultations in relation to any proposal for a substantial development or variation of the health service in St Helens.
The Committee monitors the achievement of the "Promote good health, independence and care across our communities" priority as set out in the Our Borough Strategy 2021-30.
Find more details of meetings of the ASCH Committee.
Children and Young People Services Scrutiny Committee
The Children and Young People Services (CYPS) Scrutiny Committee considers and scrutinises items relating to the provision and operation of children and young people's services. The Committee monitors the achievement of the "Ensure children and young people have a positive start in life" priority as set out in Our Borough Strategy 2021-30.
Because the Committee's scope covers the Council's role as a local education authority, its membership is extended to include five co-optees, who represent the primary, secondary and special school sectors and two representatives of faith communities.
Find more details of meetings of the CYPS Committee.
Place Services Scrutiny Committee
The Place Services Scrutiny Committee considers and scrutinises items concerning borough-wide economic development, environment, regeneration, housing, culture, tourism, leisure and libraries. The Committee is also designated as the responsible Committee for the review and scrutiny of crime and disorder issues, as set out in the Police and Justice Act 2006.
Furthermore, the committee is designated as the responsible committee for flood risk management, and shall undertake its responsibilities under the Flood and Water Management Act 2010.
The Committee monitors the achievement of three priorities as set out in Our Borough Strategy 2021-30: "Create safe and strong communities and neighbourhoods for all"; "Support a strong, thriving, inclusive and well-connected local economy"; and "Create green and vibrant places that reflect our heritage and culture".
Find more details of meetings of the Place Services Committee.
Task and Finish Groups & Spotlight Reviews
Task and Finish Groups & Spotlight Reviews may be established by a scrutiny committee for the purpose of reviewing a service, policy or issue that affects the council, its residents or the borough. Evidence is gathered in a variety of ways, including:
- Co-opted members
- Written evidence
- Oral evidence from both internal and external witnesses
- Site visits
- Consultation events
When the evidence has been gathered, a report setting out recommendations is produced and presented to the relevant Scrutiny Committee. Once agreed by the Committee, the report and recommendations are then presented to the Council's Cabinet for consideration. Cabinet's response to the report and recommendations are then presented back to the relevant Scrutiny Committee.
If you are interested in taking part in a scrutiny review, then please contact the Scrutiny Team.
Scrutiny work programmes
A comprehensive work programme is fundamental to the effectiveness of the Scrutiny committees as it enables them to plan and manage their workloads to make best use of the available time and resources, ensure a focus on the borough's priorities and add the most value to the performance of the council and outcomes for residents.
Work programme sessions are held at the beginning of each municipal year to outline the work of each committee. Within each work programme, there exists flexibility so that as the year progresses, items can be added to the programme of each committee if the chair and committee members are in agreement.
Scrutiny has a very broad scope for the topics it can address and the approaches it can take to an enquiry: a single issue or decision might be dealt with over one meeting, whereas a review of council policy or a cross-cutting issue that involves external partners might take a number of months to conclude. There is no limit to the nature of an issue that scrutiny committees can choose to investigate.
Carrying out effective scrutiny takes a lot of time, commitment and effort so it is simply not possible to look at every issue. When choosing issues, scrutiny will consider whether it can make a real difference (e.g. would the recommendation result in improved services).
Details of topics for 2022/23 will be provided following the first meetings of the Committees in July 2022.
The Scrutiny team welcomes your views, suggestions and comments on potential topics to be reviewed by Scrutiny. Please contact the Scrutiny team if you wish to send in your suggestions.