Scrutiny arrangements ‘not kept pace with local government change’

13 Feb 15

Councils have been warned that plans to integrate health and care spending will place additional pressures on ‘ineffective’ local authority scrutiny arrangements.

Paul Dossett, head of local government at Grant Thornton, said scrutiny had not kept pace with integration initiatives, as well as moves to provide more services through outsourcing or standalone companies.

Speaking to Public Finance after Grant Thornton’s annual local authority governance review found that 43% of council leaders or chief executives felt there was insufficient interrogation from scrutiny committees, Dossett said current arrangements ‘seem to have a very variable impact’.

‘In a large number of councils it’s felt not to be particularly effective,’ he said.

‘What was set up in 2000 [when councils could move to cabinet governance] was for what the councils did then and how they delivered it.

‘But there’s now alterative delivery models and arrangements where councils have set up joint ventures and there’s an outsourcing agenda. The response to our survey is that scrutiny arrangements have not moved quickly to cover the broader ways that councils now deliver services to people.’

In particular, he highlighted the report’s finding that a quarter of health and wellbeing boards had not received the engagement of all key local organisations, including healthcare providers, for scrutiny.

Moves to integrate at least £5.3bn worth of NHS and council spending through boards’ Better Care Fund plans could ‘absolutely’ exacerbate this problem, he warned.

‘Health and wellbeing boards, as part of the broader scrutiny agenda, don’t seem to have any great impact at the moment,’ he said.

‘When you have health and social care integration, you will need high-quality people doing the scrutiny of how the money is being used and whether it’s being used effectively.

‘When you put these budgets together, you expect integration and you expect better outcomes. What you don’t expect is higher levels of expenditure, and those are the things you’d expect to be scrutinised.’

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