Councillors Jo Blackman, Paul Donovan and Daniel Morgan-Thomas (Labour, Wanstead Village) explain the work they do in scrutinising Redbridge Council, and invite you to participate
When writing one of our monthly newsletters recently, it struck us that we spend a lot of time communicating with residents about what we’re doing locally to improve our area, but rarely cover our role in scrutinising the council through the committees we sit on. This might sound like a rather dry subject, but these committees play a crucial role in scrutinising the work of the council, which directly impacts residents’ lives.
Between the three of us, we sit on committees covering the full range of council services – health, education, place (covering environment and highways) and people (education, social care, youth and children’s services). There are also occasional groups set up to delve deeper into specific topics and come up with recommendations to inform council policy. These are called task and finish groups, or corporate panels. Most recently, we’ve been active in groups looking at climate change, biodiversity, transport and the social inclusion of older people.
The committees receive reports from senior council officers and Cabinet members on specific subjects, as well as regular updates on some standing agenda items. This gives us the chance to probe the strategic direction being taken by the council, as well as examining in more detail what that means for residents. Most weeks will see one or more of these committees meeting – now virtually – during the evening, enabling councillors to fit it around their day jobs.
Public engagement is also a vital part of these committee meetings. Residents can request in advance to join committee meetings to raise issues of concern. These are always heard at the start of the meeting and often provoke a lively debate. These interventions are particularly effective when they include personal testimonies about the impact of council policy on people’s lives. They can also directly influence and inform council policy, for example, following representations about proposed cuts to children’s centres.
Pre-lockdown, these committees also undertook visits to see how things are working on the ground. This has included visits by the people scrutiny committee to Wanstead Village to see the great work underway at the Woodbine centre, as well as by the health scrutiny committee to discuss the blood testing service.
Committee meetings are now broadcast online with all documentation available to the public. The council is also planning to undertake more outreach to encourage participation from a wider range of residents in council meetings. We’re always happy to help residents navigate the council’s committees, so do get in touch if you’d like to get involved or find out more about our work scrutinising the council.