I have been thoroughly disappointed with being on Scrutiny Committee for over a year now. It seems totally unable to hold the Executive to account and it feels as if people are deliberately frustrating the work of what should be an important check and balance. We are told we are there to support the Executive - I think we are there to support the poor, long suffering council tax payer of Norwich.
So it was to my delight that today the powers-that-be got a really rough time as Councillors - of all parties - laid into the complacent attitudes at the council. Lakenham were particularly well represented. Keith Driver, who is becoming an increasingly independent minded Labour member, kept coming back to the issue of value-for-money and never got the answers he wanted over the number of firms who tender for council contracts. He also made a good point about the workload of restaurant inspectors when it was revealed that 81% of inspections would be squeezed into the last 6 months of the year. His fellow ward member, Hereward Cooke, was equally irrate. Saying that the officer comments justifying various council failures were "gobbledegook", Hereward make a passionate plea for councillors to keep control of the management of the council. He also tore into the council about community engagement and asked that residents didn't have things "done to them, but with them". Green member Tom Dylan, who represents Mancroft Ward, did brilliantly on several counts including challenging the council to allow councillors to set policy rather than just having briefing notes bought to us and being asked to comment. Other councillors, myself included, enjoyed this moment as one to lay a marker in the sand about who does, and who should, control overall council policy. LibDem Brian Watkins raised the issue of the tourist strategy (again) and to good effect. Labour's David Bradford and Green Leader Adrian Ramsay did similarly good interventions on other topics too.
This meeting probably achieved very little but it did certainly lay down a marker about the work of the Scrutiny committee. This was an excellent examples of opposition and backbench councillors making a stand about just some of the flaws in the system. I hope this heralds the start of a new sort of approach from Scrutiny. It was democracy and accountability at its best ... just a pity not a single members of the public turned up to see it.