On BATC on 17 January we criticised Cllr Hamilton, Cabinet member for Health and Social Care, for ducking the question put to her at the Council meeting on 15 January about extra Government funding for adult social care. £5.6 million of this is ring fenced for adult social care with a steer towards dealing with hospital discharge – the job of the Enablement Service.
The Council’s Enablement Service workers – mainly low-paid women – have been in dispute for over a year, including over 25 days strikes, over Council plans to cut their pay and impose new shift patterns.
Now it has been revealed that the Council has actually underspent adult social care so far this year by £5.2 million (B Post 24 Jan). It is a scandal that the Council is not using this money together with the Government funding to stop the wage cuts and fund the Enablement Service properly.
Why is the Health and Social Care Scrutiny Committee silent?
BATC also criticised the failure of the Council’s Health and Social Care Scrutiny Committee to challenge the Council’s treatment of the Enablement Service workers. Here is the latest evidence.
The Notes of the December Scrutiny Committee meeting are on the Council website. They amount to 6 pages and include quite detailed reports on several issues and comments from Committee members. But there is not a single mention of the Enablement issue, even though strike action has continued to take place.
The Committee met again on 22 January. Yet again the Enablement Service wasn’t on the agenda and wasn’t even mentioned in the discussion. But it was mentioned in Chair Councillor Rob Pocock’s closing remarks. Here they are:
There’s quite a lot of discussion currently under way about the changes to the Enablement Service. I suspect this Committee will want to pay some close attention to that issue at some point in the Spring. We’ll see how that issue unfolds, but clearly that is another highly topical area of Council services that is likely to come onto our agenda at some point over the Spring period so we’ll await developments on that front.
So, no urgency, let’s just wait and see. And meanwhile we’ll let the Enablement workers just carrying on suffering the attack on their pay and working conditions.
And not a single member of the majority-Labour Committee said a word to challenge Cllr Pocock.
It confirms further what BATC said: ‘This is a sorry record of complete failure of the Scrutiny Committee to carry out its responsibilities’.
Scrutiny has the powers – use them!
The constitution gives Scrutiny Committees a number of powers including the following:
conduct appropriate research, community and other consultation in the analysis of policy and budget issues and possible options;
consider and implement mechanisms to encourage and enhance community participation in the development of policy options;
liaise with other external organisations operating in the city, whether national, regional or local to ensure that the interests of local people are enhanced by collaborative working.
These powers could have been used by the Committee to consult with the users and providers of the Enablement Service, liaise with Unison, bring the evidence to the Scrutiny Committee meetings and invite users and staff to speak at a meeting. This would have given the issue the priority it deserves and put substantial pressure on the Executive to modify its stance.
And of course the Committee could ‘Exercise the “request for call-in” and “call-in” any Executive decisions made but not yet implemented by the Executive.’
The Health and Social Care Scrutiny Committee meets next on 5 February. We say: put the Enablement Service on the agenda and use Scrutiny powers to hold the Council to account.
Time for scrutiny of Scrutiny in Birmingham?
We suspect that the weakness of Overview and Scrutiny in Birmingham City Council is not just a matter for the Health and Social Care Committee alone. A year ago MPs on the Communities and Local Government Committee reviewed scrutiny arrangements, which were established by the Local Government Act 2000 as an intended counterweight to the cabinet system it also created.
Their report, Effectiveness of Local Authority Overview and Scrutiny Committees (December 2017), said scrutiny was often held in low esteem with little influence on council policy. Local government needs a cultural change to allow the scrutiny process to work properly. The Committee chair Clive Betts MP said: “Scrutiny is marginalised at too many local authorities, which in extreme cases can contribute to severe service failures, letting down council taxpayers and those that rely on services.”
Maybe it’s time for a review of Scrutiny in Birmingham.