‘Rotherham scandal raises questions over council scrutiny’

Clive Betts
Clive Betts
Have your say

THE ROTHERHAM abuse scandal has highlighted shortcomings in the way councils are held to account, according to MPs.

An inquiry has been launched by MPs over whether reforms are needed to the way the actions of councils are scrutinised.

The Community and Local Government Committee of MPs has begun the investigation in the wake of a series of scandals to hit councils.

The failings of Rotherham Council, in particular over child abuse in the town, ultimately led to the resignation of two council leaders and the Government sending in commissioners to run the authority in place of

But those actions followed reports by external inspectors and the MPs’ inquiry will focus on why serious problems in councils are not being exposed by the routine process of senior councillors and officers being held to account.

Clive Betts, chairman of the Communities and Local Government Committee and the MP for Sheffield South-East, said: “This inquiry is long overdue.

“Local authority executives have more powers than ever before but there has not been any review about how effectively the current overview and scrutiny arrangements are working since they were introduced in 2000.

“Local authorities have a considerable degree of discretion when it comes to overview and scrutiny.

“We will examine these arrangements and consider what changes may be needed to ensure decision-makers in councils and local services are better held to account.”

Over the last 15 years councils have undergone major changes in the way they run their affairs.

Prior to a change in the law in 2000, council business was largely carried out through a series of cross-party committees.

However, the committee structure was seen as difficult for the public to understand and blamed for slow decision-making.

Government reforms led to councils taking on a cabinet-style structure with senior councillors taking most decisions with their actions scrutinised by committees and the full council.

A change in the law five years ago gave councils the freedom to move back to the old system but few have done so and the vast majority of Yorkshire councils continue to use an executive-type structure.

The MPs inquiry will look at the role of scrutiny committees in councils and how independent they are of those whose actions they are examining.

It will consider how councillors are appointed to scrutiny committees and whether they have the necessary expert advice and enough powers to demand witnesses give evidence.

The role of council officers helping scrutiny committees will also be examined.

Areas including West and South Yorkshire have created combined authorities in recent years, bodies which bring together councils to take decisions on cross-border issues such as transport and skills.

However, some councillors have argued the scrutiny of combined authorities has not kept pace with the powers they now wield.

Rotherham Council had its powers removed in 2015 following a damning report from Dame Louise Casey.

Under a new chief executive and political leadership, the council has steadily had powers returned and the role of the commissioners has been scaled back.

Child protection and elderly care are among the areas where the commissioners remain in control.