Clause 8

Part of Local Authorities (Overview and Scrutiny) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:00 am on 3rd March 2010.

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Photo of Julia Goldsworthy Julia Goldsworthy Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government 11:00 am, 3rd March 2010

The hon. Gentleman has highlighted some weaknesses in the existing system, which the clause could exacerbate. Perhaps there needs to be a wider rethink of the options available to local authorities. In some cases it might require a return to the committee system or a more effective counterweight to that. The key issue is that the set-up of the current overview and scrutiny system also muddies these waters quite a lot.

For example, the health and adult services overview and scrutiny committee scrutinises services that the council the local primary care trust delivers. Those are very different roles. In one case, it is clear why there might be an argument for having an executive member sitting on a committee scrutinising the work of the PCT, but it would be entirely inappropriate for them to be sitting on a committee scrutinising work they were undertaking themselves.

We need to work out whether it is possible to separate those two issues. Could the executive member attend at the invitation of the committee? That might be a way of doing it. Participation could be linked to a specific report or investigation, so that there was participation only on issues that went beyond the remit of the local authority, but that were subject to scrutiny by the committee.

I see some value in this measure if councils need to campaign on an issue. We should remember that councils not only deliver services but have a campaigning role to fulfil. I understand the benefit of an executive member adding weight to an investigation or scrutiny process, but we must ensure that the various elements are properly separated. I hope there is some way of doing that, and that the Minister and her officials will put their minds to it.