Two-thirds of backbench councillors feel they can’t influence decisions

County Hall in Chichester
County Hall in Chichester

Only one-third of councillors who sit on select committees believe they have enough influence on decisions made by West Sussex County Council.

The point of select committees is to review council policy and scrutinise decisions made by cabinet members and hold them to account.

An annual survey of members who serve on the committees was presented to members of the performance and finance select committee, in Chichester.

It found that only 34 per cent felt they were able to ‘influence decisions appropriately’, while less than half – 49 per cent – felt they had an input into policy development.

Only 27 per cent felt scrutiny input into the budget had been ‘effective’.

Michael Jones (Lab, Southgate & Gossops Green) said the figures ‘spoke volumes’ given most of the councillors were members of the controlling Conservative party.

The whole issue of scrutiny came in for criticism from Ofsted recently, described as not ‘sufficiently rigorous’ in a report which labelled children’s services in the county inadequate.

At the meeting, suggestions were made about how to improve things. One involved the roles of chair and vice-chair.

At the moment, only members of the controlling party are chosen for the posts, but it was suggested that one or the other should be taken up by a member of a minority party.

Such a decision was made on Wednesday (May 22) at Arun District Council, whose leader Dr James Walsh said it was ‘the best way to do scrutiny’.

Mr Jones said he would be tabling a Notice of Motion at next month’s meeting of the full council calling on the county to do the same in the name of ‘more robust and independent minded’ scrutiny.

With the government having recently published statutory guidance for scrutiny at councils, the suggestion was included in the committee’s recommendation to full council, which also called for a review of the process to be undertaken.