The Roles of Overview and Scrutiny
The responsibilities of Overview and Scrutiny bodies can be split into four main areas as detailed below.
1. Holding Portfolio Holders to account for the services within their areas of responsibility
The Cabinet system for local government means that the Leader and Portfolio Holders are directly accountable for all of the services provided by the Council. This means that Portfolio Holders are asked to present reports to The Overview and Scrutiny Committee on significant services or significant issues within services and are held accountable for the Council's performance. The same system applies to the Leader who will present reports on significant services.
Portfolio Holders are also held to account by The Overview and Scrutiny Committee through performance monitoring. Portfolio Holders are invited to present a twice yearly monitoring report on targets in their portfolio. This gives the Committee a chance to take an overview of progress towards achieving the aims of the City Council's Change Plans for the year and helps to show the clear relationship with the Portfolio Holder's responsibility for the service area.
2. Contributing to the development and review of key Council policies and programmes
The Overview and Scrutiny Committee play a vital role in maintaining an overview of the City Council's work and looking in depth at programmes of work or issues which either have particular significance for residents or have been highlighted as areas of concern.
In order to undertake this work, the Committee can set up Informal Scrutiny Groups of Members who work with officers in the relevant area to review the issue and report back to their parent body. Their recommendations are then passed to Cabinet for consideration and, if agreed, implementation.
The Overview and Scrutiny Committee can also ask for ad hoc reports on aspects of the City Council's business throughout the year.
The Committee can examine policy matters referred to it by Council or Cabinet. It can also independently authorise such work to be undertaken. For example it could look at a large project being undertaken by the Council that will have a significant impact upon residents and will use considerable resources.
The Overview and Scrutiny Committee can do the following in relation to policy development and review:
a) Help the Council develop its budget and policy framework by looking at policy issues;
b) Carry out research and consultation when looking into policy issues and possible options;
c) Put in place mechanisms to encourage community participation and the development of policy options;
d) Question Members of Cabinet, Committees and Directors/Heads of Service about their views on issues and proposals affecting the Winchester District;
e) Liaise with other external organisations operating in the area to make sure that working in partnership is in the interests of local people.
3. Challenging decisions made by Cabinet or Portfolio Holders
The Council's constitution allows The Overview and Scrutiny Committee to 'call in' any issue put to Cabinet involving unplanned expenditure over £50,000. When 'call in' has been used, Cabinet is not able to implement a decision until the matter has been considered by the Committee, although the matter may be resolved by the full Council.
The Overview and Scrutiny Comittee also has the power to challenge any decision taken by the Leader or a Portfolio Holder, and can invite both Portfolio Holder and relevant officers to attend a meeting to explain the decision.
4. Reviewing the overall benefit to the public from services provided by the City Council and other organisations
The Overview and Scrutiny Committee is able to scrutinise any matter affecting the Winchester District or its residents relating to their particular areas. To help undertake this important role, it is able to scrutinise services provided by external organisations as well as those provided by the City Council. For example, the Committee would be able to look at an aspect of the County Council's work in the Winchester District.
The Overview and Scrutiny Committee can also review the City Council's partnership working in relevant areas. They are able to look at all aspects of a partnership's work including the City Council's role, performance management and monitoring work programmes.
One difference with this external role is that The Overview and Scrutiny Committee cannot require a representative from those external organisations to come and give evidence. Rather, it can invite external people to attend to give evidence.