Cllr Barry Rawlings, Cllr Sury Khatri and I attended a scrutiny training even held by the centre for Excellence in Local Government and Health (ELGH) in Lambeth today. It was a very useful session, and I think we all came away with some good tips on how to scope committee investigations and task and finish groups. It was interesting to hear the approaches of officers to scrutiny, and hear some good tips.
What was most interesting was how bad some things are in Barnet, and how dependent you are as a committee on a good chair for a successful committee. The tenor of a meeting and the attitude of committee members stems from the chair.
Take for example, Health and Budget and Performance. Health is a good committee because the members work together, the chair is excellent and gives a fair hearing to all and we cover the agenda. We do site visits and call a range of witnesses. Budget and Performance is not so, and if possible I recommend watching the DRS meeting last week to see why.
I wonder if our system isn't as broken as the way it is applied. For any system to work, it calls for a real change in attitude, or else the same problems will persist whatever the system.
I thought we were also presented with an amusing set of questions about how the council view scrutiny, such as whether the Leader of the Council views scrutiny as a management tool. Barnet would have failed them all. It's a real pity because, as I saw today, scrutiny can be valued by the administration as a way of making sure people know what is going on and are kept on their toes. It was good to see that approach taken by Lambeth, and I think it is possible to be done in Barnet, it just needs good chairmanship and a change in attitude.