Since we launched our offer to support sector-led improvement 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. In January 2014 Cardiff Business School independently endorsed the value of peer challenge. Their report confirmed that corporate peer challenge is a core element of the LGAs sector-led improvement offer to local authorities. The LGAs approach continues to work well and is having a real impact for local authorities. The process is designed to support councils to take responsibility for their own improvement.

Supporting councils to succeed: Independent evaluation of the LGA's corporate peer challenge programme (PDF, 28 pages, 333KB)

By the end of 2014, more than 180 councils will have received an LGA corporate peer challenge. More will have participated in the programme by providing peers. This continued increase reflects the substantial demand for constructive challenge and the value of peers' insight for authorities in challenging times. By March 2014, councils will have contributed more than 2,500 days of senior councillor and officer time to peer challenge teams. This is equivalent to millions of pounds worth of consultancy.

Where have we been?

As of March 2014, 128 councils have had a corporate peer challenge. Demand in 2013 increased significantly and this continues in 2014. We are in discussion with more than 50 councils about the planning and timing of their challenge.

Read the list of completed peer challenges

See how authorities have been using peer challenge and the benefits they are gaining:

Peer challenge adding value case studies (PDF, 31 pages, 1.4 MB large file)

In 2012, Cardiff Business School completed an independent evaluation of the first phase of peer challenge.

Read the interim evaluation of Corporate peer challenge (PDF, 16 page, 1.87MB large file)

In January 2014, Cardiff Business School reported on the second phase of the evaluation of the peer challenge programme. The messages were very encouraging:

  • councils have been impressed with the knowledge and experience shown by teams and the professional manner in which they conduct themselves
  • they particularly value the fact that team members understand the complexity of working in a political environment – this helps to give councils confidence in the process
  • councils reported that the feedback and reports from peers teams offer challenging, constructive and honest insight
  • peer challenge has had a positive impact on their capacity to take responsibility for their own improvement it has encouraged councils to agree clear priorities and to integrate strategic management with resource planning
  • it has supported councils in improving their medium financial planning, efficiency programmes, partnership working, performance management, and engagement with partners and communities
  • councils that have experienced the process are strong advocates for it.

Read the phase 2 evaluation of corporate peer challenge (PDF, 28 pages, 333KB)

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:

Peer challenge adding value case studies (PDF, 31 pages, 1.4 MB large file)

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.

Read the interim evaluation of Corporate peer challenge (PDF, 16 page, 1.87MB large file)

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/partners, political 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.

Further details are set out in our publication:
LGA's Corporate peer challenge offer: sector-led improvement (PDF, 18 pages, 1.4MB, large file)

Further details on how some authorities are using this to accelerate local growth are set out in our publication:
The hothouse of growth: corporate peer challenge and accelerating economic development (PDF, 15 pages, 523KB)

Feedback from the first batch of corporate peer challenges

LGA peer challenge video – watch chief executives and councillors talk about peer challenges:

Councils and 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:

Published peer challenge reports

Further information

How to become a peer

For more information about peer challenge, or to find out how to become a peer, please contact:

Paul Clarke
Telephone: 07887 706960
Email: paul.clarke2@local.gov.uk

Andy Bates, Principal Advisor 
Telephone: 07919 562849
Email: andy.bates@local.gov.uk