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Title: External stakeholder participation in overview and scrutiny processes : a case study of four English local authorities
Author: Bowman, Reece
ISNI:       0000 0004 2720 5049
Awarding Body: Northumbria University
Current Institution: Northumbria University
Date of Award: 2011
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Overview and scrutiny (OS) is an integral and once statutorily required aspect of the new political management arrangements introduced by the Local Government Act 2000. Ten years on, the varied nature of local government has resulted in a diversity of governance arrangements. These incorporate OS functions that have implemented different elements of their general role, as it was originally envisaged, with varying degrees of emphasis and success. The thesis uses a grounded theory approach to analyse data arising from observation of OS processes and semi-structured interviewing of OS chairs, scrutiny officers and external stakeholders of four English local authorities. It makes an original contribution to knowledge by investigating the „external scrutiny‟ element and the extent to which external stakeholders are being involved in OS processes as a means to enhance local democracy and augment OS enquiry evidence bases. Over the years, various Acts of Parliament have consolidated and strengthened the „external scrutiny‟ role, which originally gave non-executive members a focus beyond their own local authority services and competencies. It has since developed into an enhanced and increasingly important aspect of core local authority business, which now sees local government OS empowered specifically to hold large scale service delivery partnerships to account to a greater extent than ever before. In an era of Total Place, local governance, joint commissioning, shared services and collaborative procurement, OS has been equipped to enable non-executive members, through influence, to effect genuine improvement in their localities. However, the research has shown that making this a success is problematic, as cultural differences, organisational resistance and issues of legitimacy confront external scrutineers. The theoretical contribution of the thesis states that a willingness to perform, and the practical undertaking of, external OS has enhanced the democratic component of local governance through a two-pronged approach that can be characterised as „monitoring / accountability‟ and „service improvement‟. This enhancement is qualified by the fact that engagement in OS processes is generally of experts / professionals, typically from the public sector. As a corollary of this and the increasingly complicated cross-cutting issues facing policy makers, OS has developed into a highly technical exercise, which may add to the difficulties encountered in attempting to involve lay stakeholders: indeed, the general public has not been engaged consistently and systematically. It is theorised that „hard‟ and „soft‟ role delineations exist within OS processes that influence this – hard role delineation is seen as a barrier to general public engagement - and lend themselves most readily to „monitoring / accountability‟ and „service improvement‟, respectively. The latter of these is found to have greatest potential for more substantive external stakeholder engagement and the use of innovative practices, and it is theorised that deliberative democratic approaches, which flexible OS arrangements are well equipped to implement, are key to strengthening OS‟s role as they enable inclusion, consensus building, triangulation and quality assurance of the findings of OS enquiries. This is in the pursuit of stronger recommendations for service improvement, built upon wide ranging, properly deliberated evidence bases.
Supervisor: Shaw, Keith Sponsor: Blyth Valley Borough Council
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: L200 Politics