Financial scrutiny practice guide
Produced by the Centre for Public Scrutiny (CfPS) and CIPFA, this guide provides guidance to England councils and councillors on how they might best integrate an awareness of council finances into the way that overview and scrutiny works.
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on council finances, uncertainty regarding the delayed fair funding review and future operations for social care – on top of a decade of progressively more significant financial constraints – has placed local government in a hugely challenging position.
For the foreseeable future, council budgeting will be even more about the language of priorities and difficult choices than ever before.
This guide suggests ways to move budget and finance scrutiny beyond set-piece scrutiny ‘events’ in December and quarterly financial performance scorecards being reported to committee. Effective financial scrutiny is one of the few ways that councils can assure themselves that their budget is robust and sustainable, and that it intelligently takes into account the needs of residents.
Scrutiny can provide an independent perspective, drawing directly on the insights of local people, and can challenge assumptions and preconceptions. It can also provide a mechanism to ensure an understanding tough choices that councils are now making.
Note on COVID-19
This paper has been published as the local government sector is seeking to manage the unique set of financial circumstances arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. This has resulted, through
the Coronavirus Act 2020 and other legislation, in changes to local authorities’ formal duties around financial systems and procedures.
The approaches set out in this guide reflect our thinking on scrutiny’s role on financial matters as things stand but the preparation for the 2021/22 budget might look different. CfPS has produced a separate guide to assist scrutineers in understanding financial matters during the pandemic; this paper should be read alongside it.