Peer challenge is a proven tool for improvement. It is a process commissioned by a council and involves a small team of local government peers spending time at the council to provide challenge and share learning.
The process involves engaging with a wide range of people connected with the council and the findings are delivered immediately.
Since we launched our offer to support sector-led improvement in 2011, we have delivered more than 400 peer challenges. In 2013 our ‘Rewiring Public Services' campaign endorsed the central role it plays in improving council's impact on issues like economic development, improving social care and pressing ahead with transforming public services. In 2014 an independent evaluation endorsed the value of peer challenge.
The corporate peer challenge
Every council in England is able to have a Corporate Peer Challenge at no direct cost. It is voluntary in nature and tailored to the needs of each council. The process is designed to support councils to take responsibility for their own performance and improvement. Further details about the Corporate Peer Challenge are set out in our publication:
By the end of 2014/15, nearly 200 councils will have received a Corporate Peer Challenge. More will have participated in the programme by providing peers. This demand reflects the continued call for constructive challenge and the value of peers' insight for authorities in challenging times.
How have councils been using peer challenge?
The peer challenge approach is highly flexible. It can be designed around a council's current issues and improvement needs. Subject to resources it can be delivered at a time to suit your council. The focus of the Corporate Peer Challenge is worked up with each council individually. Councils are using their peer challenge to focus on a variety of different issues, including:
- to inform the corporate strategy, comment on the council's readiness for the future, and its current trajectory and rate of change
- an external perspective of major change and transformation programmes – to inform and challenge options for the future
- the impact of joint working between two councils in terms of improved service delivery and efficiency gains, and how county/district working can be strengthened
- an improvement focus on key corporate priorities including economic development and growth
- new ways of working, service delivery and relationships with citizens/partners, and working with partners, and harnessing internal and external capacity to deliver priorities.
See how authorities have been using peer challenge and the benefits they are gaining:
- Corporate Peer challenge adding value: case studies (PDF, 31 pages, 1.4 MB large file)
- The hothouse of growth: corporate peer challenge and accelerating economic development (PDF, 15 pages, 523KB)
- LGA peer challenge video – watch chief executives and councillors talk about peer challenges.
- Article: Councils and the value of peer challenge (October 2013) – on the Institute of Leadership and Management website.
Independent evaluation of the corporate peer challenge programme
In January 2014 Cardiff Business School independently endorsed the value of peer challenge. Their report confirmed that Corporate Peer Challenge is regarded as a core element of the LGA's sector-led improvement offer to local authorities, and that the approach continues to work well, having a real impact for local authorities. Councils that have experienced the peer challenge process are strong advocates for it.
Councils reported that the feedback from peers offers challenging, constructive and honest insight. Peer challenge has supported improvements in medium financial planning, efficiency programmes, partnership working, performance management, and engagement with partners and communities.
In June 2012, Cardiff Business School completed an independent interim evaluation of the first phase of the programme which reported that the voluntary and flexible nature of peer challenge is strongly supported by the sector, the quality of the peer teams is high, and the ‘future focus' of challenges helps council's better tackle upcoming challenges.
Greater accountability and transparency
Our role is to report to councils, not about them. We encourage all councils to publish their peer challenge feedback reports or outcomes from their peer challenge at a time of their choosing. Councils who are doing this have found it useful in terms of transparency and local accountability.
We are pleased that the majority councils have published the outcomes from their peer challenge. Sometimes there is understandably a time lag between council's having their peer challenge and the publication of its outcomes.
Explore some of the reports, with information about why councils value publishing the outcomes of their peer challenge:
For more information about peer challenge, or to find out how to become a peer, please contact:
Telephone: 07887 706960
Andy Bates, Principal Advisor
Telephone: 07919 562849
More information about being a peer can be found at: Call for peers.
For information on the LGA's other peer challenge programmes see: LGA Peer Challenges.