Since we launched our offer to support sector-led self-regulation in 2011 we have worked with nearly 200 councils to deliver or plan their corporate peer challenge. Demand has increased significantly during 2013 and this looks set to continue. The LGA's ‘Rewiring Public Services' campaign endorsed the central role that peer challenge plays in ending bureaucratic inspection, improving council's impact on issues like economic development, improving social care and pressing ahead with transforming public services.
Every council 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.
We know that peer challenge is a proven tool for improvement. Since 2004, almost 70 per cent of councils have had a peer challenge and in the last year we have received a clear message from the sector that peer challenge is a valuable part of a council's drive to improve its performance in tough times.
Peer challenge is the most recognised LGA support offer for councils. Eighty-six per cent of authorities who've already had a peer challenge thought the challenge was good at identifying key issues for the authority. More strikingly, their own experience of peer challenge was so positive that every single authority recommended a peer challenge for other councils.
Where have we been?
Since 2011, nearly a third of local authorities have now had a peer challenge. We have completed 103 corporate peer challenges. Demand in 2013 increased significantly and this is anticipated to continue in 2014. We are in discussion with over 70 councils about the planning and timing of their challenge.
What the sector has told us about peer challenge
Since 2011, we have been working with a small group of chief executives from a range of authorities to:
- act as a sounding board to help inform our thinking
- ensure that we developed an approach that reflects councils' needs.
We took advice from leading politicians and tested out our thinking with a wide range of elected members and officers. We did this through a series of roadshows and gathered feedback following the first batch of peer challenges.
See how authorities have been using peer challenge and the benefits they are gaining:
In June 2012, Cardiff Business School completed an independent evaluation of the first phase of peer challenge and the key messages were very encouraging:
- the voluntary and flexible nature of peer challenge is strongly supported
- the quality of the process and in particular the peer teams, has been high
- peer teams have provided constructive challenge
- the redesigned process is tailored, flexible and provides authorities with choice
- challenges are ‘future focused' helping council's better tackle upcoming challenges.
How have councils been using peer challenge?
Councils are using their peer challenge to focus on a variety of different issues, including:
- the impact of joint working between two councils in terms of improved service delivery and efficiency gains
- an external perspective of major change and transformation programmes – to inform and challenge options for the future
- new ways of working, service delivery and relationships with citizens/partnerspolitical and managerial leadership, the ‘localism' agenda, and how county/ district working can be strengthened
- an improvement focus on key corporate priorities of (i) regeneration and economic development; and (ii) educational attainment and skills development
- to inform the corporate strategy, comment on the council's readiness for the future, and its current trajectory and rate of change
- working with partners, and harnessing internal capacity and leadership, to deliver the corporate priority for local growth and the economy.
The approach is highly flexible. It can be designed around your 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 peer challenge is worked up with each council individually. Don't just take our word for it. Ten authorities talk about how they have used it in different ways and the fantastic benefits they got out of peer challenge. [insert link]
Further details are set out in our publication:
Feedback from the first batch of Corporate peer challenges
LGA peer challenge video – watch chief executives and councillors talk about peer challenges:
Read councils talk about the value of peer challenge – on the Institute of Leadership and Management website
Greater accountability and transparency
Our role is to report to councils, not about them. We encourage all councils to publish their reports or outcomes from their peer challenge at a time of their choosing. Authorities who are doing this have found it useful in terms of transparency and local accountability.
We are very pleased that so far, almost without exception, councils have published the outcomes from their peer challenge. Sometimes there is naturally 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:
Andy Bates, Principal Advisor
Telephone: 07919 562849
Telephone: 07887 706960