Council leader forced to ‘look again’ at scrutiny reforms in Camden

Camden’s council leader has been forced to go back to the drawing board on proposals for the future of scrutiny and accountability for the Town Hall executive.

The chairs of Camden’s scrutiny committees, which hold different branches of the Town Hall to account, had jointly put forward proposals to improve their function, including a more central role for residents.

But draft reforms presented by the council were met with scepticism amid concerns that they do not go far enough, and Cllr Gould has now promised to meet with the committee chairs and to look again at their plans.

The influential chairs were said by Sanjay Mackintosh, the council’s director of corporate strategy, to have at first rejected more “radical” proposals such as having residents sitting on committees with them.

Mackintosh told them: “This is a moment in time for this work. The proposal in here is to start working on some things, but noting that this isn’t everything that was in your proposal, and that it’s very much a work in progress.”

Cllr Alison Kelly (Lab, Haverstock), chair of the health and adult social care scrutiny committee, responded: “I think we would sum it up by saying that this is hardly anything that’s in our proposal, and it’s one element of it.

“We think that working with our residents is hugely important. We are here to listen to our residents and do the things that they think are important, provided it fits in with our responsibilities and priorities.

“It’s about our residents trusting us, understanding where we’re coming from, and us being open and transparent.”

In January, the chairs jointly called for a number of reforms to their function, including residents being involved in actively setting the agendas of what the committees would focus on, as well as greater accountability for cabinet members, council officers and partner organisations.

Complaints have been made that the current arrangements mean meetings are “not sufficiently focused on strategic issues and risks”, with residents not always playing an integral part in the process.

Mackintosh presented a number of ideas in draft form, including collaborative work with resident forum The Citizens Assembly, along with enabling residents “to work with” members to suggest topics for scrutiny.

The draft proposals will now be reworked at the scrutineers’ request, with recommendations including a focus on public accountability for cabinet members in council meetings and for the scrutiny chairs themselves to be less “thinly” held to account.

Another idea is to have scrutiny chairs leading public sessions on an issue, followed by presentations on what had been achieved – providing public accountability.

Cllr Georgia Gould said: “We’ve been looking at this from a structural place, and maybe we need to start again and go back to the recommendations of the scrutiny chairs and think about what we’re actually trying to do, which is make sure scrutiny is taken seriously within the organisation.”