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Attending a scrutiny meeting

Observing a meeting

Meetings usually take place at 7:30pm in the council chamber in Time Square. As meetings are open to the public, unless otherwise stated, members of the public are welcome to attend.

If you are observing a meeting, you will be greeted by an overview and scrutiny officer. They will show you to the public seating area and provide you with a copy of the agenda (if available).

The following people may be at the meeting:

  • elected councillors on the committees
  • community representatives
  • an overview and scrutiny officer (provides advice)
  • a democratic services officer (takes minutes at the meeting)
  • officers with an interest in a topic on the agenda
  • press and media

Meetings may also involve contributions from a wide range of sources, including:

  • members
  • officers
  • NHS employees
  • education representatives
  • local businesses
  • voluntary groups
  • specialists
  • members of the public

Attending as a witness

If an overview and scrutiny panel, or the commission, would like to invite you to attend one of their meetings as a witness, a member of the overview and scrutiny team will contact you informally about the process. If you agree to come along you will be sent a formal invitation confirming the time and location of the meeting.

There is no obligation for people from outside the council to attend (except for certain health authority staff). However, by attending you will be making a valuable contribution in helping the members of the panel or commission gain an accurate view of the issues being discussed.

You can nominate another person to come on your behalf if they are fully briefed on the issue. Occasionally, organisations, rather than an individual, are invited to give evidence. In this case, it is up to you to decide who would be most appropriate to attend.

Preparing for the meeting

The formal invitation will contain details of the relevant inquiry (including any notes of previous evidence sessions) and the way overview and scrutiny works at the council. You will also be provided with an outline of the likely questions to be asked of you or issues to be discussed.

If you have been asked to give a presentation, an overview and scrutiny officer will discuss with you beforehand the style and length of your presentation and any special equipment you may require. If you haven’t been asked to give a presentation but feel that it would be helpful, please contact an overview and scrutiny officer who will make any necessary arrangements.

You will be informed of any documents that the councillors wish to have produced for them. Councillors find it helpful if you can prepare a brief paper setting out some of the key facts and issues. Please consult with the democratic services officer coordinating the meeting about arrangements for copying and distribution.

If you have any further information that you think will aid the inquiry then please send it to one of our overview and scrutiny officers who will make sure that it is put on the agenda or circulated to councillors prior to the meeting.

At the meeting

The chairman will introduce themselves to you before the start of the meeting. One of the overview and scrutiny officers will show you to your seat and provide you with a copy of the agenda.

At the beginning of the meeting there will be a number of procedural items of business that the chairman will address, such as approving the minutes of the last meeting and taking apologies from absent members. Whilst these are formal meetings of the council, the structure tends to be informal, with free and open discussion.

If there is any information that you do not wish to give in public, you should make this clear to the chairman prior to the meeting. The council is able to conduct some of its business in private, provided that the information in question falls within a number of set criteria such as personal information or financial or business details. These categories are set out by statute. If a meeting (or part of a meeting) is to be conducted in private, this is known as ‘Part II’. The public and press will be asked to leave and, whilst minutes will be produced, they will only be made available on a restricted basis.

Giving your evidence

We make sure that all witnesses are treated with courtesy and respect. All questions to witnesses are made in an orderly manner as directed by the chair of the meeting.

When it comes to your agenda item, the chairman will introduce you to those present and ask you to introduce yourself, including a brief introduction to your work and how you are connected with the issue under discussion. Once all introductions have been completed, the meeting will open out into a question and answer session.

You should try to be honest and open in your responses and to volunteer relevant information and views, even if not specifically asked by the panel or commission.

If there is factual information available to back up any views which you may have, it will be helpful to refer to this, either directly or by stating the source of the information.

You should try to be as precise as possible in your responses. If you do not know the answer to a question simply say so and if appropriate send us the information after the meeting.

If you are only able to give an estimate, for example of costs involved in a project or about timescales, explain that it is only an estimate and not a definitive amount. Explain if there are factors or assumptions which may have a significant impact on any figures or estimates given.

If you are attending on behalf of an organisation, you should make it clear whether any views expressed are personal views or those of the organisation.

After the meeting

Following the meeting you will be thanked for attending. Notes of the discussion will be sent to you for factual checking. Please let an overview and scrutiny officer know if you think that your views have not been accurately recorded.

If, after the meeting, you become aware that you have given incorrect or misleading information, for example by incorrectly quoting a figure, then let an overview and scrutiny officer know as soon as possible so that the information can be corrected. Following the proceedings, you will be written to (where appropriate) and informed of the outcome.

Once the panel or commission has finished the review, a report will usually be written to present a full picture of the inquiry and recommendations will be made. If the recommendations are accepted, scrutiny members will monitor progress on changed policies or procedures.

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