West Norfolk Council scrutiny procedures ‘are not working’, says review

Views of King's Lynn''The view of Chapel Street with the Junction of Austin Street King's Lynn''The King's Lynn and West Norfolk Borough Council Office is the building on the left, with the Lattice House Pub further down on the right. ENGANL00120130322090456

Views of King's Lynn''The view of Chapel Street with the Junction of Austin Street King's Lynn''The King's Lynn and West Norfolk Borough Council Office is the building on the left, with the Lattice House Pub further down on the right. ENGANL00120130322090456

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West Norfolk Council’s scrutiny procedures are not working and a key committee should be scrapped altogether, according to a new report.

The comments are among a number of recommendations contained in a paper which will go before the authority’s ruling cabinet tomorrow.

Last month, councillors voted to appoint an interim cabinet scrutiny committee based on the council’s political make-up, giving the Conservatives the most seats. Previously, opposition groups had held a majority.

Labour members claimed the move was undemocratic and voiced concerns that a peer review of scrutiny procedures had not been widely circulated.

But the report by the Centre for Public Scrutiny (CfPS), which has been published in the papers for tomorrow’s meeting, said there was “universal dissatisfaction” with how the committee was operating.

It continued: “We do not feel that the Cabinet Scrutiny Committee as currently set up serves a useful purpose, in fact quite the opposite.

“Meeting to consider reports where the decision has just been taken by Cabinet seems to have created a forum which encourages conflict and dispute without the opportunity to influence or effect change.

“Everyone to whom we spoke is highly frustrated by it and we recommend that it should be abolished.”

Instead, the report proposes the formation of a new corporate performance scrutiny committee, whose members would include the chairmen of the separate policy panels.

Other recommendations include an end to the practice of cabinet reports being presented to panels ahead of cabinet meetings, a practice described as “poor”, and pre-meeting discussions before sessions with cabinet members and officers to agree questioning plans and desired outcomes.

The report also calls for the authority to look at how the monthly full council meetings could be used to allow backbenchers to take a more active part in policy debates.

Council officers have called for cabinet members’ comments on the review’s findings and recommend that a workshop should take place with councillors to discuss better practices.

The report also calls for a nine-member task group to be set up to examine the report and ideas generated by the workshop, in order to bring recommendations back to the cabinet and full council.