House of Commons Library

Overview and Scrutiny in Local Government

Published Wednesday, March 9, 2016

This note provides an introduction to overview and scrutiny committees in local authorities, their development and the relevant legislative provisions. It also notes specific powers available to local councils to scrutinise other bodies. The note principally covers England, with some reference to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

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Overview and scrutiny committees were established in English and Welsh local authorities by the Local Government Act 2000. They were intended as a counterweight to the new executive structures created by that Act (elected mayors or leaders and cabinets). Their role was to develop and review policy and make recommendations to the council.

Today, the legislative provisions for overview and scrutiny committees for England can be found in the Localism Act 2011. Those for Wales are in the Local Government (Wales) Measure 2011, and those for Northern Ireland are in the Local Government Act (Northern Ireland) 2014. There are no legislative provisions for overview and scrutiny in Scotland, though many Scottish local authorities do operate scrutiny committees alongside executive structures.

Local authorities also manage processes of ‘external scrutiny’, where their committees look at issues which lie outside the council’s responsibilities. In England, specific powers exist to scrutinise health bodies, crime and disorder partnerships, and Police and Crime Commissioners. Combined authorities are also required to establish overview and scrutiny committees.

Commons Briefing papers SN06520

Author: Mark Sandford

Topic: Local government

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