Scrutiny at Oxfordshire County Council

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

An overview of the scrutiny function

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 and exploring the effectiveness of other local public bodies. They question how key decisions have been made and address 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 that the full council or the Cabinet has already held. Instead, Scrutiny committees take a strategic perspective and focus on issues and outcomes of importance to the community, to ensure that local services improve and that value for money is achieved.

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, ensure transparency in decision-making, and help the authority and other agencies/ public bodies in the area deliver services that are sensitive to local needs.

The scrutiny procedure rules of the Constitution provide more information about the aims and roles of scrutiny.

Internal scrutiny at Oxfordshire County Council

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

  • Performance and Corporate Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee. This committee covers: 
    • corporate and directorate performance 
    • the budget
  • 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 the Joint Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee does not cover them 
    • 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 meeting papers or minutes by following the links above.

Scrutiny of other public sector bodies

An important aspect of scrutiny is that it is undertaken by those who have been democratically elected by local residents to be their representatives. This is a crucial part of scrutinising 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 committee's work differs from that of the other scrutiny committees in that instead of primarily examining the council's services; it is focused on 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 impact it, including some of the council’s activities. 

The committee consults widely with external bodies such as Healthwatch, the voluntary sector, and partners from the NHS to gain a clear 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 must 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 that 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 and seek 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  Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire West Joint Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee (BOB HOSC) - 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 it provides scrutiny at a more regional level, for example, scrutinising the ICS’s five-year plan.

Police, crime and disorder scrutiny

Crime and disorder

Under section 19 of the Police and Justice Act 2006, the council is not only empowered but also obligated 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 as the Crime and Disorder Committee. The March/April meeting considers the community safety agreement and other relevant issues. 

The community safety agreement is developed annually by local authorities, probation services, the police, and fire and health services in the area. It looks at (a) how 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 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 open to the public in person. They are also live-streamed on the web and can be watched back at a later date. The link to the live stream is on the agenda page for the relevant meeting.
  • Participate in a meeting. Members of the public are welcome 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 involves at least one task and a finish group going at once, often looking at topics of high public interest. These working groups often call for information on the impact of the issue.
  • Become a co-optee. Some committees, such as People and the Joint Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee, have places for co-optees and non-councillors who become full members. If you have relevant skills, particularly in health matters, or are a school governor and would like to become a Scrutiny committee member, email to introduce yourself and learn 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, contact with your suggestion or contact the chair or vice chair of the committee.