by franklittle on 9 March, 2009
Assisted by Neil and Stacy, the county borough’s scrutiny officers, and Martin Hamilton, visiting from Cardiff City, the Social Services Health and Housing Scrutiny Committee decided today to go forward with a more pre-emptive form of scrutiny.
Up until now, we have tended to react to papers about to be presented to cabinet, usually to question, occasionally to object, but not being able to make a positive contribution. In future, we will have the option of taking an area of our own choosing and draw up recommendations. Sometimes this will be a subject which we know is due to be considered by cabinet, sometimes one which we feel is due more attention from officers and cabinet. As I understand it, we will still fulfil our duty of scrutinising cabinet reports, but one hopes that, being involved at an earlier stage in policy-making, the scrutiny committee will be presented with fewer of these (and shorter).
We will use a mixture of formal and informal meetings (to both of which, contributors from outside the council may be invited) . Cardiff also has a system of what they call “task-and-finish” groups, where a smaller subset of their committees, typically two or three councillors, takes on an investigation and presents its recommendations to the full scrutiny committee. I had the sense at today’s meeting that members of the ruling group will take some convincing to go down this road, feeling that the whole committee should be involved in all investigations. This apart, there was remarkable cross-party agreement which bodes well for the future.
Our first investigation will be into the implications for Neath Port Talbot of the proposed termination of community health councils in September and the reduction in number of local health boards. Since we have just over a month to come to a conclusion, we will have to move fast on this one. We plan to hold no more than two meetings and question just a few key stakeholders in camera. However, that doesn’t prevent anyone with a point of view which they feel they need to express contacting the committee. The membership is listed on the county borough’s web pages.
The second investigation will be into alcohol misuse. This has become topical, with the Scottish Parliament’s decision to attempt to price heavy drinkers out of the market. We should be able to devote more time to this and involve as many interested parties as possible. (Although some fellow committee members say that this is a particular problem for Neath Port Talbot, I note that a motion on the subject has been submitted to the Welsh Liberal Democrat spring conference next month, so we are clearly not unique.)
The outcomes from these two will dictate where we go afterwards. Although we have the examples of Cardiff and Carmarthenshire to look at, there is no substitute for learning from practical experience. The months ahead should be at least interesting, maybe even exciting.
updated with spelling corrections 2009-3-101 Comment