Most Merton Councillors Fail To Give Input On Council's Own Survey

Only a third give their opinion on how the council scrutinises its own work

Merton council scrutiny report
Merton Council's summary of how its work is scrutinised

Just a third of Merton's councillors gave an input into its own annual survey on how well the council's own work in the borough is being checked.

Merton Council conducts an annual survey into how its own councillors think its Overview and Scrutiny Commission has carried out its work.

The Commission has 36 cross-party members and four co-optees and has been chaired for several years by Merton Park Independent Councillors - first former Councillor Peter Southgate and now Councillor Edward Foley.

Its role is to act on behalf of the community to improve council services and decision-making, which it does through reviews and evidence-gathering sessions on topics put to Council cabinet members, local service providers and other council partners.

Every year it carries out its own survey of Merton councillors and the Commission's co-opted members to check how this scrutiny process is working.

But a report to the most recent Commission meeting revealed that of the 60 councillors quizzed about its work, only 20 responded to the annual survey. Only one of three co-opted members gave a response.

The members survey report presented to the meeting showed that this represented a 32% response rate. This compared with 40% in 2021 and 60% when the survey was first carried out in 2018.

Of those who responded, 70% said they were happy with the overall effectiveness of scrutiny. But nearly three-quarters of those who responded (73%) said they wanted more use of experts to provide more context and challenge to the work of the Commission, as well as more background on policy when scrutinising services.

Points given annonymously included:

 Take certain difficult people off the committee.
 More direct quizzing of cabinet member, or external partners, like a Parliament
select committee.
 Mix up the chairs of the committees, some clearly only there at behest of their
leadership and seem to deliberately block meeting progress.
 Any suggested motions, references to be put in writing so we are clear what
we are voting, as too often it is not clear and drags meeting into chaos. Democratic
Services officer to check with individual they are attributing comments/name in
the minutes, to check items arent ‘misconstrued’ or deliberately used by
others in a false way.
 Better liaison is needed with group offices re diary management.
 More site visits.

The report revealed that the Commission's priority in the past year was the local response to the Covid pandemic, including the vaccine roll-out. It said the council had meetings with refuse company Veolia about street cleanliness and rubbish collection. The Commission also had regular meetings with the Met Police's Borough Commander about crime and safety.

Other topics scrutnised were traffic-free school streets, access to GP services, council budget savings, school places, fly-tipping and management of green spaces.

Merton campaigner @MarkGale said of the number of councillors responding to the survey: ")nly 1 in 3 could be bothered in answering the questions - sounds about right."

The report is due to be presented to the next full Council meeting, which takes place on September 21.

September 12, 2022