The Practical Democracy Podcast. A podcast about practical change, with guests from public bodies and civil society.

Episode 8: Resisting Change & Scrutiny

Featuring: Ed Hammond from the Centre for Public Scrutiny

In this episode, Ed and host Ben Fowkes discuss scrutiny, what it actually is, how it's been affected by council culture and the coronavirus, and what the future holds.

Ed Hammond is Director of Research and Campaigns at the Centre for Public Scrutiny. His background is in local government, and he is a nationally recognised expert on matters relating to councils’ overview and scrutiny functions.

Episode 8 transcript

Here’s a rough breakdown of timings:

00:00 Intro and Ed’s professional history

05:34 Scrutiny and its history

If you’re a bit unclear on what scrutiny actually is - don’t worry, you’re not alone. Ed explains what it is, its history (scrutiny in local government has only been around 20 years), and Centre for Public Scrutiny’s role.

23:11: Navigating council culture

As with most things when it comes to local government, it takes more than a great idea to enact lasting change. Ed talks about change-resistant council culture and how it’s affected the adoption of scrutiny, as well as other issues like the fact that scrutiny committees are funded by the council itself - i.e., the people and the organisation they’re scrutinising gets to decide how they’re resourced.

36:03 Scrutiny’s benefits and current opportunities

Ed discusses the good that scrutiny can bring as well as his hopes for the near future. Local government reorganisation offers opportunities to create institutional change. There’s a trend of organisations moving away from a fixation on performance statistics to a more progressive, humanised approach, in which scrutiny has a role.

49:15 The role of the citizen

Where do citizens fit in to all of this? Scrutiny isn’t necessarily just committees of councillors, it can involve members of the public and community groups as well. Ed thinks this should be broadened and more widely adopted.

56:03 Scrutiny and COVID-19

How has lockdown affected scrutiny? Ed talks about how coronavirus has affected his work and councils’ scrutiny teams, and how Zoom meetings have offered some surprising benefits.

1:11:05 Wrap-up and shoutouts

Follow Ed on Twitter.

Check out the Centre for Public Scrutiny.