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Scrutiny at Oxfordshire County Council

How the council checks its own performance, and that of other public sector services in Oxfordshire.

Overview of the Scrutiny function

Oxfordshire County Council is committed to providing excellent services to the local community. An effective Scrutiny function helps to improve service provision and to inform policy. The statutory Scrutiny function involves non-Cabinet Members (including co-opted members) examining the council's functions and performance, challenging the plans and decisions of the Cabinet and exploring the effectiveness of other public bodies in the locality. They question how key decisions have been made and take up issues of concern to the local community.

The Scrutiny function aims to make recommendations to influence the future development of policy. Scrutiny does not re-run debates already held in full council or in the Cabinet. Instead, Scrutiny committees take a strategic perspective and aim to focus on issues and outcomes of importance to the community, to ensure that local services improve and that value for money is achieved at Oxfordshire County Council.

Scrutiny can exercise influence by:

  • Holding decision-makers to account
  • Challenging and improving performance
  • Supporting the achievement of value for money
  • Challenging the way things are done
  • Making evidence-based recommendations to decision-makers
  • Bringing in the views and evidence of local people, service users and citizens
  • Encouraging joined-up thinking across directorate and service barriers.

Overall, Scrutiny aims to achieve greater public accountability, to ensure that decision-making is transparent, and to help the authority and other agencies/ public bodies in the area to deliver services that are sensitive to local needs.

More information about the aims and roles of Scrutiny can be found on the website in the Scrutiny Procedure Rules of the county council's Constitution.

Internal Scrutiny at Oxfordshire County Council

There are three internal Scrutiny committees, which focus primarily (but not exclusively) on the council’s own activities:

  • People Overview and Scrutiny Committee. This Committee covers: 
    • All services and preventative activities/initiatives relating to children, young people, education, families and older people; 
    • Statutory functions in relation to children, adult social care and safeguarding. 
    • Public health matters where they are not covered by the Joint Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee 
    • Matters relating to care leavers and the transition between children’s and adult services.
  • Place Overview and Scrutiny Committee. This Committee covers: 
    • Climate change 
    • Transport and highways, 
    • Planning 
    • Place-based services, including delivery of regulatory services, fire and rescue, community safety and community services such as libraries

You can find out about the work of each committee and read their meetings' papers or minutes by following the links above.

Scrutiny of other public sector bodies

An important aspect of Scrutiny is the fact it is undertaken by those who have been democratically elected by local residents to be their representatives. This is a crucial part of the scrutiny of the council’s activities, but it is so important that the council is empowered by legislation to provide a similar role to other public sector bodies.

Health Scrutiny

Joint Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee

The Oxfordshire Joint Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee (OJHOSC) looks at the health services provided by the NHS and other providers in the county. It is a 'joint' committee with members from the county council and the county's five districts. There are also places for co-opted members to bring a community perspective.

The work of the Oxfordshire Joint Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee differs from the other Scrutiny committees in that instead of looking primarily at the council’s services it is focused outwards towards services provided by other agencies, primarily the NHS. However, health scrutiny is not only about the NHS: it is about health improvement, rather than ill health, and the committee looks at all the things that have an impact upon it, which include some of the council’s activities too. The committee consults widely with external bodies such as Healthwatch, the voluntary sector, and partners from the NHS, so that it can gain a good picture of what matters to the community.

Some of the issues the committee can look at are:

  • any matter relating to the planning, provision and operation of health services
  • services provided, commissioned or managed by the NHS
  • whether local health services are working well
  • other health matters such as the availability of sports and leisure facilities, or people's access to fresh foods

The NHS is obliged to consult the OJHOSC on any substantial changes it wants to make to local health services. It also has a wider responsibility to involve and consult the public.

The committee meets at least five times a year with additional meetings as needed and additional working groups outside the committee . It reacts to what is happening in the NHS both locally and nationally and develops a work programme, which lists the issues it plans to investigate. Once an investigation is completed the committee presents its advice to the relevant bodies in the form of a report.

Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, West Berkshire Joint Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee

The Health and Care Act 2022 abolished Clinical Commissioning Groups, the bodies responsible for organising the delivery of healthcare in local areas and instead replaced them with Integrated Care Systems (ICSs). ICSs have a broader remit, which seeks to bring the delivery of health and social care functions closer together. Oxfordshire forms part of the Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire West (BOB) ICS. The ‘BOB HOSC’ - Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire West Joint Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee - is made up of 19 councillors from Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, West Berks, Reading and Wokingham Councils and includes seven councillors from Oxfordshire County Council. The purpose of the BOB HOSC is similar to that of the Oxfordshire HOSC, but to provide Scrutiny at a more regional level, for example scrutinising the ICS’s five-year plan.

Police, Crime and Disorder Scrutiny

Crime and Disorder

The council is not only empowered but obligated under section 19 of the Police and Justice Act 2006 to appoint an overview and scrutiny committee as a ‘crime and disorder committee’. This committee is empowered to review or scrutinise decisions made or actions taken in connection with the discharge by responsible authorities of their crime and disorder functions to make reports or recommendations to the local authority and its executive with respect to the discharge of those functions.

The council has designated the Place Overview and Scrutiny Committee operates as the Crime and Disorder Committee, where the March/April meeting is given over consideration of the community safety agreement and any other relevant issues. The community safety agreement is developed annually by local authorities, probation services, the police, fire and health services in the area. It looks at (a) the ways in which the responsible authorities in the county area might more effectively implement the priorities set out in these strategic assessments through coordinated or joint working and (b) how the responsible authorities in the county area might otherwise reduce crime and disorder or combat substance misuse through coordinated or joint working.

Police and Crime Panel

Operating at a regional level, the Thames Valley Police and Crime Panel was created to scrutinise the Thames Valley Police and Crime Commissioner. It has one councillor from each of the 18 local authorities in the Thames Valley area and two co-opted members. Responsibility for coordinating the Panel typically moves to the council from which the Chair comes.

Getting involved in Scrutiny

Scrutiny exists to represent the views and concerns of the public, so public involvement is absolutely welcomed. There are lots of ways to get involved in Scrutiny at the County Council:

  • Attend or watch a meeting. All our Scrutiny Committee meetings are held in public and are open to the public to attend in person. They are also livestreamed on the web, which can also be watched back at a later date. The link to the livestream is to be found on the agenda page for the relevant meeting.
  • Participate in a meeting. Members of the public are welcomed to address the committee before a meeting starts on an item on the agenda. To do so, contact the committee clerk for that meeting.
  • Feed back on calls for information. Scrutiny typically has at least one task and finish group going at one time, which often looks at topics of high public interest. These working groups often make calls for information on the impact of the issue at hand; responding to these really fleshes out what it is like for members of the public and brings the subject alive.
  • Become a co-optee. On some committees, People and the Joint Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee there are places for co-optees, and non-councillors who become full members of the committee. If you have relevant skills, particularly around health matters, or are a school governor and would like to become a member of a Scrutiny committee please e-mail scrutiny@oxfordshire.gov.uk to introduce yourself and find out about current opportunities.
  • Shape our work programme. Scrutiny Committees set their work programmes for the year ahead, but this can change. If there is a topic which the council is responsible for and is having a widespread impact on residents that you would like included in the work programme, please contact scrutiny@oxfordshire.gov.uk with your suggestion or contact the Chair or Vice Chair of the committee.