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Scrutiny at Christmas
Posted on 20 December 2012 by Dan Looker
As we rapidly approach this most festive of seasons there is little or no let up for People’s Scrutiny…
The External Placements Task Group is due to be published on the 10 January 2013 Committee agenda and so I find myself in one of the trickiest parts of our role, trying to agree a final report. Members need to surmise their findings into something meaningful and above all helpful to the County Council, but this is no easy process. External placements is for instance an incredibly complex area, with huge budget pressures and myriad issues to consider. The County Council is also operating at a time of great change, and since the review began there have been significant developments in terms of both national and local policy. Bills are currently going through parliament on social care, health and education, along with the establishment in Devon of the SEN Pathfinder; it is therefore not in any way a straightforward process for members to agree the focus of their report, in particular the recommendations, which will aim to promote a strategy moving forward which supports opportunities to reduce safely reliance on external placements.
After a couple of meetings to agree a draft, I’ll then send out the report to the People’s Heads of Service to ‘highlight any perceived inaccuracies or misunderstandings’. This is always a slightly unnerving time, as often by definition with the scrutiny that’s been undertaken, not all parties will be entirely happy with the content of the report. What we’re striving for here is something of a balance, between the members right to include whatever they feel important to within their report but their views also being fair, evidenced and factually correct. Officers don’t have the right to undermine the members report and investigation, but they do have a right to question assertions where they feel in some way misrepresented. Although not always an easy process, members usually will be happy to consider proposed amendments and will welcome suggestions to strengthen the report. A task group wants to produce a report that is as robust, and above all, as helpful as possible,which subsequently has its recommendations welcomed and actioned by Cabinet.
So as one review draws to its conclusion, another piece of work begins as this afternoon members commence the Depression in Older People Task Group review. A number of officers will be attending the Committee Suite to brief the Group on issues relating to older people in Devon with depression, and the County Council’s services and strategies, alongside partners in Health to support this very vulnerable group.
Depression doesn’t necessarily appear to be the most festive of subject matters, but given the tight time-scale of reporting back in March 2013, (the last Committee before the election) members felt it important to make a start. It’s perhaps also all the more pertinent now when a recent survey by the charity Friends of the Elderly estimated that 500,000 older people will this year spend Christmas Day alone. However, not by any stretch of the imagination will all these older people be depressed, but for those that are in Devon, hopefully the work of this Task Group can go some way to reducing the number next year.
Scrutiny will continue apace up until Christmas Eve, and then we’ll be back again on the 2 January 2013 to get set for the busiest month in the year with the 2013/14 budget setting process. Watch this space!
Have a fabulous Christmas and we’ll look forward to an exciting, and no less challenging 2013!