Who does what?

A week ago one of our scrutiny committees held a “spotlight review” looking at the working relationship between the County Council and the community and voluntary sector. A spotlight review is the term we use for a task group squished into one meeting. They are particularly useful for gaining a quick, in-depth view of a topic which members are already familiar with, or to get all the relevant people in the room at the same time. Some other councils call them “enquiry days” or “commissions”.

The Councillors spoke to people from the community and voluntary sector and had an insightful discussion about pressures, challenges and what is working well. One of the main messages to come from the meeting was a lack of awareness of what charitable organisations are doing in Devon. Shockingly, over 50% of Devon residents couldn’t name a local charity.

This made me think about the level of transparency which we have as Council as well as that of our partners.

Whilst working within the local political system, it is easy to forget how complicated it can look from the outside. Likewise, the complex landscape of many different charities, community groups and third sector organisations may seem unclear unless you are directly involved on a day-to-day basis.

Scrutiny has a clear role in understanding and illuminating (no pun intended) the myriad of public, private and third sector services, as well as communicating its findings to everybody. The strength of scrutiny lies in being able and confident enough to ask for simple explanations of how and why things are done in a certain way. For example, the answer to questions such as “why are you doing this?” can provide a powerful insight, not just for decision-makers but also for citizens.

We see scrutiny as one of the most active fora for involving people in local government. Several hundred people contribute to our service reviews every year and we work together with different organisations representing the public, private and third sectors. We also pride ourselves in explaining services, dilemmas, decisions, and the reasons behind them in a language which is easy to understand

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Please do let us know what you think about services in your area – and if there is anything we can do to help improve them. Simply give us a call on 01392 383143 email us at scrutiny@devon.gov.uk. We look forward to hearing from you.

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