Who guards the guardians?
If knowledge is power, it is clear that the reconfiguration of the overview and scrutiny functions of the Council point to a HRA-Labour Administration that shows so little faith in the cognitive ability of elected members that they believe we are capable only of the shallowest understanding of their policy decisions.
For there can be no other explanation as to why the previous model of subject-specific committees should be swept away in favour of two high-level strategic bodies containing huge swathes of policy areas (under the title of ‘People’ there are 19 separate policy areas, 24 under ‘Places’) which will claim the attention of their respective members.
I use the word ‘attention’ here deliberately, for members will have to keep a sharp eye and ear on proceedings for fear of missing something, so fast will the business of these committees need to be undertaken within the time allotted. Unless the proposal is to increase regularity of meetings, which is yet to be determined, it would be near impossible to cover every subject area proposed within just one of these committees to any meaningful extent.
The only way that I can see that the vital work of these committees could be undertaken is through the creation of topic specific task and finish groups. However, with only £16k allocated to this work, realistically how many policy areas would this cover? Two or three at most.
To make this new system work, additional resources are required for overview and scrutiny in the shape of more officers dedicated to this task. Unfortunately, rather than ring-fence the savings emanating from the restructuring of the function for this purpose, the new Cabinet have chosen to increase their own allowances instead.
At the present time, the most significant driver of costs for this local authority is in the provision of social care for adults and children. We are not in a moral or legal position simply call a halt to these services, but equally such increases in expenditure is unsustainable. How then to square this circle? Surely, the search for an answer would be far better aided through the collective application of minds through scrutiny and challenge, than placing that burden solely upon the lead member?
I know when I occupied that office it was of great benefit to me to have regular discussions with the overview and scrutiny chairs covering the respective areas of this portfolio. It improved my understanding of issues; it brought to attention areas that had yet to be on my radar, in short in improved policy for the benefit of some of the most vulnerable in our society.
I fear that the new system introduced by the HRA-Labour coalition is nothing short of emasculation through dilution. I sincerely hope that I am proved wrong because ultimately it will be the people of Havering who pay the price if this system fails to ensure that the Administration’s policy decisions are subject to robust and constructive challenge.
Cllr Jason Frost
Havering Conservative Group