I’ve just spent the larger part of my day reading about the scrutiny processes of local councils. Of course, this is the sort of thing I do for fun, but there was a serious purpose at hand. As part of my MA in online journalism, but also as part of my work at Podnosh I’ll be looking at how the web can be used to improve scrutiny processes in local government.
How are you going to start?
There’s a lot to do, but I’ve started by trying to answer a simple question for myself: What is scrutiny? That’s what all the reading is about. As someone who worked as the local government correspondent for a pretty decent local newspaper, I should have a fairly strong knowledge of this, but if I’m being honest I don’t. And if I don’t know then I imagine I’m not alone.
Shut up and tell me what scrutiny is
Scrutiny – means ‘to search’ and apparently originally meant to ‘sort rubbish’ (hmm… interesting!). In its local government context scrutiny is the business of examining and holding to account the decision-making process. The Local Government Act of 2000, required all councils to make decisions through an executive group of councillors, or cabinet. It also set up an overview and scrutiny process so councillors outside the executive could overview the council’s decisions to ensure they met the requirements of the budget and the council’s policy framework. I learned all that from Wikipedia and the Centre for Public Scrutiny’s Introduction To Scrutiny. Whoppee!
I’m going to be writing about this a lot, so I won’t dawdle, but I already have a few thoughts:
1. Scrutiny’s bloody important, because it goes to the heart of the democratic process. It’s how decision making (what government does) is overseen and checked and everyone should be interested in it, because it’s the crucial bit of democracy: we elect people, they do stuff. We need to know about it.
2. Scrutiny is difficult to understand and it isn’t, well, sexy. Which is weird, given point one.
3. I’ve singularly failed to answer how it can be made better. But it strikes me it might be a bit early for that!