Scrutiny at East Sussex County Council
What is scrutiny?
Scrutiny involves the public examination and questioning of the decisions made by the leadership of an organisation. Effective scrutiny is an important part of local democracy.
East Sussex County Council is run by elected councillors. Whilst the budget and policy framework is set by all councillors at Full Council, most of the day-to-day decisions are taken by the Council’s Cabinet or individual Lead Members who sit on the Cabinet.
In order to ensure that other members who are not part of the Cabinet are able to have their say in day-to-day decision making, by law, all local authorities with a Cabinet must also have scrutiny committees. These committees let other councillors have the opportunity to scrutinise the decisions of Cabinet or individual Lead Members.
How does scrutiny work?
Scrutiny committees aim to work as a ‘critical friend’ to the Cabinet to help ensure that the Council’s services are delivered efficiently and effectively, are in line with the agreed budget and policy framework, and take into account the needs of the residents of East Sussex.
Scrutiny committees have a range of powers to help them hold the Cabinet to account, and they may scrutinise and make recommendations on almost any matter affecting East Sussex or its residents. A scrutiny committee can:
- ask Lead Members to attend their meetings to justify their decisions and explain how they are being implemented
- ask senior council officers to attend meetings to account for the performance of Council services
- carry out detailed reviews of issues and make recommendations to Cabinet to change or improve Council services, which Cabinet must respond to
- ‘call in’ a Cabinet decision if they believe it may have been taken incorrectly, if certain criteria are met. Following scrutiny consideration, the decision-maker might proceed with the original decision or make an amended decision.
- help develop the Council’s budget through the Reconciling Policy, Performance and Resources (RPPR) process
- listen to the concerns and opinions of residents and organisations and ensure that they are represented
- invite outside organisations and representative groups to offer views on the Council’s services or specific issues
- consider any petitions referred to the committee in line with the Council’s Petition Scheme
- consider a Councillor Call for Action from a councillor in relation to an issue in their local area if all other attempts to resolve it fail
The Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee has a similar scrutiny role in relation to local NHS organisations and services. It has a specific role to review proposals by the NHS to change health services locally.
The Council’s 3 scrutiny committees are made up of councillors from different political parties, in proportion to their seats on the Council, and co-opted members from outside the Council. Each committee sets its own work programme.
Scrutinises care services for residents, including residential care state education, public health, other childcare services and sensory care services. Also looks at community safety.
Scrutinises road maintenance, public transport, management of the local environment and trading standards, libraries and archives, registrars and the voluntary sector.
Looks at the work of local NHS organisations.
Scrutiny reviews are time-limited projects that look at a particular Council service or a complex issue affecting residents and make recommendations to Cabinet or external organisations (such as the NHS) to improve the service or address the issue.
Factors that might influence the topics chosen for a potential scrutiny review include:
- concerns or complaints about a particular service or issue
- areas highlighted as priorities by the County Council
- an issue that members of the public or external organisations have raised with councillors
- new or evolving areas of work which may benefit from a review
A scrutiny committee that agrees to review a particular issue will set up a review board to conduct the review. The committee will agree the board’s membership and what it will, and will not, look at following a scoping process to determine whether there is sufficient value in conducting a review and, if so, what questions it should focus on.
Most review boards comprise 3 to 5 members. A Chair is elected from the members to lead the review.
The review board will gather detailed evidence from a variety of sources, which may include:
- national regulations and guidance
- Council policies
- best practice from other local authorities
- questionnaires and surveys conducted by the Council or other organisations
- written submissions from experts, community and voluntary organisations, campaign groups, services users and the public
Members of the review board may also carry out site visits to gain a better understanding of a service or issue.
Review boards will hold meetings and invite witnesses to give evidence and their perspective on the issue. Witnesses may include:
- senior officers of the Council
- other staff from the Council or external organisations
- representatives of community and voluntary organisations
- members of campaign groups
Review board members will then put detailed questions to witnesses to explore their lines of enquiry, based on the evidence gathered.
By gathering such a wide range of information on a particular issue and speaking to a wide range of witnesses, the scrutiny members can ensure that any recommendations they put forward are evidence-based.
The report outlining the board’s findings and recommendations is presented to its scrutiny committee for agreement. It is then submitted to Cabinet for a written response and then to Full Council for consideration alongside the Cabinet response. Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee recommendations go directly to the NHS for response. The scrutiny committee usually monitors how its recommendations have been responded to after 6 and 12 months.
Reviewing NHS services
The Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee (HOSC) has a special power to review and comment on any proposed change to health services in East Sussex that is considered to be a substantial change to the existing service. This could include the replacement of a particular service in a town with a new service, such as the replacement of a walk-in centre with new types of urgent care services, or the merger of a hospital service from two sites to one, such as replacing two separate stroke units with a single, hyper-acute stroke unit.
Once the NHS has taken a decision, HOSC can consider whether it was in the best interests of health services for local residents. If HOSC has concerns about the decision which cannot be resolved through discussion with the local NHS, the Committee may then refer the decision to the Secretary of State for Health for review. The Health and Social Care Act 2022 has amended this power and further details are awaited in the regulations.
Current scrutiny reviews and scoping meetings
Current scrutiny reviews are listed below. Each link will take you to the scrutiny committee where the review was agreed as part of the Committee’s work programme.
- No reviews currently underway
- Scrutiny Review of Equality and Inclusion in Adult Social Care and Health
- Scrutiny Review of School Exclusions (first meeting in May)
- Scrutiny Review of Pothole Management
Completed scrutiny reviews
Recent completed scrutiny reviews by the People, Place and Health Scrutiny Committees are listed below. Each link will take you to the final scrutiny committee report (it will open as a PDF).
- Reconfiguration of Cardiology Services (substantial variation review)
- Reconfiguration of Ophthalmology Services (substantial variation review)
You can search the archive of meetings dating back to 2001 via the Browse meetings page. If you can’t find what you are looking for, contact us using the details at the bottom of this page.
How to get involved
There are a number of ways to get involved in the Council’s scrutiny work.
Attend a scrutiny committee meeting
Come along to a scrutiny committee meeting and listen to the debate. All meetings are open to the public, except when a confidential item is discussed (this is very rare). Meetings usually take place at County Hall in Lewes.
To find out when meetings take place see our committee pages.
Watch scrutiny committee meeting webcasts
All scrutiny committee meetings are webcast online and you can watch them live or via the Webcast library where they are saved for up at a year.
Please note: all scrutiny meetings are currently being webcast.
Suggest a topic for scrutiny
Is there an issue that you feel scrutiny should be looking at? To put forward an idea to be considered by the relevant scrutiny committee you can email email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org . Please note that scrutiny does not deal with individual cases or complaints.
Provide evidence to a review board
Scrutiny members are always keen to take evidence from people who are affected by a particular service or issue they are investigating.
The contact details of the officer responsible for each scrutiny committee can be found on the webpage for the relevant scrutiny committee.
Each local authority also has a statutory scrutiny officer. The contact details of the East Sussex County Council statutory scrutiny officer are:
Head of Policy (and Statutory Scrutiny Officer)
St Anne’s Crescent
East Sussex BN7 1UE
Phone: 07523 930526
Email Claire Lee
Find out more about scrutiny
You may wish to visit the Centre for Governance and Scrutiny website to read national guidance on scrutiny.