Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Merton Council, the last few days

The last few days it has been back to the grind of Merton Council after the last two weeks in New Zealand(and thankfully I've avoided jet lag!). Last night I chaired the The Way We Work Panel and one of the issues we covered was Merton as an Employer of Disabled People, this was a scrutiny review led by my former colleague Joe Abrams which examined a whole range of issues within the Council and made a number of recommendations which were accepted by Council. Monitoring progress is part of the panel work programme and we had some very useful contributions from staff who work for Merton about their experiences and primarily it was positive. Many of the recommendations are also well on the way to being implemented within the Council.

In terms of other matters, we had a further update on single status where the Council has still not reached agreement despite a deadline of 1st April(which is the case in most authorities). The panel also looked at our performance statistics in HR which were showing red, one of those is sickness by staff, although the figure is falling it is still too high.

Other issues discussed included procurement and an update on the budget, it seems that due to the introduction of new software the collection of Council tax is down 1% on the same period last year, whether this trend continues remains to be seen. The council budget deficit is currently £4.6 million and has not been reduced recently though we've been given assurance that it will be covered by a series of measures that are being proposed.

Tonight we had a meeting of the Overview and Scrutiny Commission and a presentation by Prof Steve Leech on his review into scrutiny. By and large many positive responses were made to the report, I believe scrutiny is working well in no overall control Merton. Over the past year improvements have happened and indeed it has been effective in holding the executive to account, but also in scrutinising outside bodies including the PCT and the hospital trust who are not used to having their actions scrutinised. Many panels have also undertaken in-depth scrutiny reviews into a range of different issues which has involved cross-party collaboration and has been very useful in finding out information. The work of the scrutiny team at Merton led by Kate Martyn has been excellent and Steve Leech has assisted greatly in improving the whole scrutiny process. While I know many authorities councillors yearn for a return to the old committee structure, I believe that if members are determined to make scrutiny work it can operate effectively. Where it does not work tends to be in authorities that see its role purely as a rubber stamping body or do not take the role of scrutiny seriously.


Post a Comment

<< Home