From time to time, the Cabinet may take a decision that causes concern to some councillors to such an extent that they believe the decision should be changed. The Local Government Act 2000 requires every council to establish a mechanism which allows for executive decisions made but not yet implemented to be 'called in' for consideration by scrutiny. This includes decisions taken by Cabinet (collective or individual) or decisions delegated to Chief Officers.
Call-in is intended to be used in exceptional circumstances for decisions believed to be contrary to the authority's decision making principles. By its nature it acts as a delaying mechanism.
How this is used varies considerably and is set out in each council's constitution, stipulating time periods, who and how many can call-in. Merton's call-in process is set out in Part 4E, Paragraph 16 of Merton's Constitution.
Its key features are:
- executive decisions are published on the website and notified by email to all councillors.
- call-in requests must be received by 12 noon on the 3rd working day following publication of decision
- the request must be made by a minimum of three councillors (a link to the electronic form is given in the email notification to councillors. Alternatively, a paper form may be submitted)
- the request must specify reason for call-in and evidence of breach of a principle of decision making (set out in the constitution)
- the request includes details of witnesses and further information required
The call-in request should be sent to the Democracy Services team by the 3rd working day following publication of the decision. The Council's Monitoring Officer (the Assistant Director – Corporate Governance) will assess validity of call-in.
If the Monitoring Officer judges the call-in to be valid it is then referred to the relevant scrutiny panel or, if the panel has previously scrutinised the issue, to the Commission. Items falling within the Commission's terms of reference would also be dealt with by the Commission.
The Panel or Commission will either deal with the call-in at its next scheduled meeting or hold an additional meeting (there are some dates set aside in the corporate calendar for this eventuality).
The tight timetable for taking action in the case of call-in means that both officers and councillors need to make themselves available at short notice to attend meetings and provide additional information, where necessary.
The Panel or Commission will hear from the call-in signatories and other people opposed to the initial decision. It will then hear from the Cabinet Member (or officer) who made the decision. It will ask questions and discuss the issue before reaching a decision.
The Panel or Commission has three options available for decision, to:
- ask the decision maker to reconsider – in which case the decision is referred back, setting out in writing the nature of the concerns. Decision maker may then amend the decision or not, before adopting a final decision which will be explained in writing.
- refer to full Council (if the decision was found to be outside policy or budget framework). Council may then uphold the initial decision or refer it back to the decision maker, together with Council's views on the decision. Decision maker may then amend the decision or not, before adopting a final decision which will be explained in writing
- uphold the initial decision – in which case the decision shall take effect immediately.
Scrutiny typically deals with 4-6 call-ins each year.
Guide and form for councillors