Visions of scrutiny

13 May

Next week sees the annual general meeting of Newham council’s Labour group. This is where elections for political positions takes place. It is also where the chair of overview and scrutiny is chosen, as the position is meant to be independent of the executive.

This year three candidates have put themselves forward: Anthony McAlmont (Royal Docks), Neil Wilson (Plaistow South) and Conor McAuley (Custom House). Between them there are sharply contrasting views as to the role of scrutiny and its relationship with the executive.

Anthony McAlmont is the incumbent and one of Sir Robin’s most reliable toadies. His election statement reads like it could have been written in the Mayor’s office – and it quite possibly was.

I am the incumbent chair of OSC. I held together and led the scrutiny chairs and the commissions in the face of what sometimes seems like an extension of group; so very often, this put at risk scrutiny’s ability to: effectively work with the Executive in terms of policy development; carry out more in-depth scrutiny inquiries into policy outcomes and resident engagement.

I inherited an OSC that was not fit for purpose in that the current scrutiny model is unable to adapt or respond adequately or address any emerging priorities and any additional pressures arising in year. I believe that we need a scrutiny model that is able to engage and support a wider range of scrutiny activities in areas such as commissioning arrangements, external partnering arrangements, transformational and income generating initiatives (Council Small Business Programme – CSBP and Red Doors) through more in-depth scrutiny inquiries.  

To address the above issues OSC adopted new protocol arrangements to enhance the effective working of the scrutiny process; however, I now believe that this is not enough. The new protocols must now be accompanied by a new scrutiny model. 

I do not believe that Newham’s scrutiny must be adversarial, but rather adopt a constructive partnership working which allows it to contribute to the effective running of the Council in the interest of residents, thus making Newham a place people want to work, live and stay. To this end I shall be working with the mayor, fellow members, officers and partners to scrutinise and develop recommendations which will support Executive members to transform and develop policies on budgeting and service delivery thereby ensuring that services are effective, transformational and value for money. 

That Cllr McAlmont claims the new protocol was adopted, rather than imposed by the mayor, shows how far up Sir Robin’s backside he is. Under his watch the scrutiny function has been a joke – as those of us who witnessed the ‘inquiry’ into the East Ham Campus overspend and the ultra vires opening of Newham Sixth Form Collegiate will testify. If he is re-elected the mayor will continue, confident that nothing as bothersome as scrutiny will get in his way.

Neil Wilson isn’t exactly threatening to rock the boat either.

In this post I would wish to make a clear priority the in-year performance and financial monitoring that is so crucial to ensure both value-for money and quality assurance from the realignment of budgets/services. I would encourage the more frequent use of “task-and-finish” groups to ensure that there is constructive feedback to proposals from the Executive in areas such as the Small Business Programme, the devolution of service provision to the Neighbourhoods.

Scrutiny work which aims to develop and review policy tends to constitute the bulk of work considered to be the most effective, and so I would always seek to be collaborative, working with the Mayor and Executive, and of course, the other Scrutiny Chairs.

Conor McAuley, by contrast, is up for a fight. After 34 years on the council and with his front bench career firmly behind him, he has no need to tolerate the leadership’s bullshit. 

Newham is unique as a local Council in that we, the Labour Party, hold all 60 Council seats and the Mayoralty. This places a special responsibility on us to be open in our dealings with the community we serve and in particular, open to scrutiny.

In the two years since the last election we have failed to live up to this.

In February 2015 Overview & Scrutiny started its enquiry into issues around the £11Million + overspend on the East Ham Campus. A year or more later, we still await the conclusions and sight of the report.

Many attribute this delay to the “Mayor’s Scrutiny Protocol” which he initially imposed upon the Group in July 2014. This protocol has since been assimilated into the Council’s Constitution. It now requires all scrutiny requests and questions to be routed through the Mayor’s office giving three weeks’ notice of questions and invitations to already scheduled meetings. This has been a recipe for delay.

It is bizarre that the political leader of the Council and his Executive determine when, how and even if, they will be scrutinised.

Throughout these two years I have been a member of the Regeneration & Employment Scrutiny Commission. This has not been an onerous task because the last Regeneration & Employment Scrutiny Commission meeting was held on February 11th 2015 with the Vice Chair in the Chair.

An entire municipal year has now passed without another meeting and a colleague has been paid an allowance to chair this commission. This is indefensible!

I want to re-invigorate Scrutiny in Newham and I would start with a revision of the Council’s scrutiny protocols.

Well good luck with that, councillor!

As I have said at almost tedious length in the past, scrutiny is a vital function of the council. Under a directly-elected mayoralty it is the only way that Sir Robin and his well-remunerated chums in the executive can be held to account. If councillors aren’t prepared to engage in the process properly there is almost no point at all to them being there. 


3 Responses to “Visions of scrutiny”

  1. KEVIN MANSELL May 16, 2016 at 10:43 #

    Let’s hope that in the interests of open democracy and good governance that the Labour Group has the sense to elect Councillor McCauley. McAlmont has been a complete washout and fails to maintain neutrality as Chair. Wilson is lightweight and demonstrates little grasp of the need for credible challenge to the Cabinet.

  2. terry ball May 16, 2016 at 17:58 #

    i thought wilson had gone after his newham recorder article ,it was about an altercation with an easter european man who received a custodial sentence or am i not keeping up with it all ?or is it toni wilson

  3. Alan Combe May 16, 2016 at 20:12 #

    And the winner is;Tony McAlmont! with 29 votes Neil Wilson got 7 and Connor McCauley got 13.

    That the Newham Labour Party thinks it acceptable to re-elect a Scrutiny Chair who fails to call any of his Regeneration & Employment Scrutiny meetings in a year is beyond parody.

    Clearly he is employed to do nothing.

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