This video presentation (8 minutes and 15 seconds) shows a series of council leaders and chief executives talking about the LGA peer challenge process and how it has benefitted their council.
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Slide: Every council and fire and rescue service is entitled to a free peer challenge from the LGA between now and March 214.
Slide: County and unitary councils are also entitled to a free children's safeguarding LGA peer challenge.
Slide: We asked a selection of council leaders and chief executives to tell us about their experiences of the peer challenge process
Graham Farrant, Chief Executive, Thurrock Council (00:19 – 00:37):
My experience of the peer challenge was very positive and it was one that was geared to the needs of the council. I would recommend it to others to use. I would also say shaping the agenda carefully for those local priorities is the real difference between the peer challenge process and the previous inspection regime. That was really helpful, I would recommend it to our colleagues and I think every council should have one.
Manjeet Gill, Chief Executive, West Lindsay District Council (00:38 – 00:42):
The leader who was involved in our peer challenge was just spot on for what we needed.
Barry Quirk, Chief Executive, London Borough of Lewisham (00:42 – 00:55):
We're not here to inspect people, we're undertaking a benign examination. People that do the same sort of activity. We're not here to find fault or pick holes in what people do. We're here to help.
Sir Merrick Cockell, LGA chairman, (00:57 – 01:27):
Happily we've moved on from the days of endless inspectorate coming in and looking at the services we provide. We've moved on, though we've retained some in child protection and a few distinct areas, now we have peer challenge and that makes far more sense to look to ourselves to be capable of challenging our services, to learn from others and then question the way we do things.
Slide: What are the benefits of peers acting as critical friends?
Jim Dillon, Chief Executive, Scarborough Borough Council (01:33 – 01:53):
I think that the phrase 'critical friend' is really important because we are really there to help each other and understanding when it's a peer, someone who is almost in the same position as you from day-to-day, they've got a better understanding of what your issues are and usually share the same sort of problems you've got.
Sir Merrick Cockell (01:52 – 02:09):
With the vast pool of talent in local government it's absolute sense to draw from that and bring together teams of some of the most able people in local government and use their talents to help other to challenge their own services.
Cllr Alec Robertson, Leader Cornwall Council, (02:10 – 02:26):
The benefits of having peers from other authorities rather than an inspection is that they can almost be more honest. There's something about an inspection that makes anything in it very damning and negative, whereas a critical friend approach allows them to pull no punches.
Cllr Alan Farnell, Leader Warwickshire County Council, (02:27 – 03:02):
To have other colleagues from other authorities looking at your services is of great benefit because they are providing similar services themselves. None of us have invented the wheel. We can all learn from authorities and colleagues providing similar services to our own, and that's much better than a very rigid inspection regime from people who perhaps have had little or no contact with the services you provide in local government.
Cllr Roger Phillips, Leader Herefordshire Council (03:03 – 03:38):
I think one of the good things about the LGA peer challenge is that we need to clearly give confidence to government and to ourselves and our citizens and service users that we are a competent authority and in doing that there's no one better than people who do it themselves and that is why the teams are made up of executives and elected officers who know what it's like and not just from an inspection point of view, but actually living and breathing it so we know the practicalities involved and the real challenges.
Slide: How flexible is the LGA peer challenge offer?
Cllr Alec Robertson (03:46 – 03:58):
The offer itself is very flexible, they involved us beforehand in discussions. We decided with them what our priorities were and took suggestions from their areas of interest, so we were really focussed.
Barry Quirk (03:59 – 04:25):
It's very flexible because essentially councils can ask peers from other councils, "these are the things we want you to focus on, these particular things." Obviously it's important to look at the whole organisation and its strategy, but to focus on three or four things, like we've done in Cornwall.
Kevin Lavery, chief executive Cornwall Council (04:26 – 05:00):
We've found it a flexible approach. I think it is important that you have some comparisons with other councils, but you have to be able to taylor it to your own unique circumstances. In Cornwall's case we've got some major economic challenges and looking at how the council is approaching economic growth, and stagnation, is really important to us and we found the LGA approach really flexible at accommodating those requirements.
Slide: Any particular highlights from the peer challenge process?
Manjeet Gill (05:10 – 05:28):
The elected member was selected on the challenges we faced so, for example, he had been involved in Cambridgeshire Horizons, something we were trying to do a few years later and so it was useful the experience and insight he brought. He wasn't just an elected member, he was an experienced consultant and that was valuable for members.
Slide: The peer challenge focuses on leadership and corporate capacity, why is this important?
Kevin Lavery (05:35 – 06:05):
I think it's absolutely vital. There's a lot of coverage at the moment about good and poor schools and it's pretty obvious in all of that coverage that the key issue is about leadership from the head teacher and his or her team. It's just the same in local authorities. Good leadership is crucial to make sure you've got the right capacity in place and you're pursuing the right strategy and you have a single-minded approach – so it's absolutely essential.
Cllr Roger Phillips (06:05 – 06:30):
What's very important is that we recognise, living in the incredibly challenging times that we are, we need to ensure local government has that capacity, particularly corporate capacity to deliver change. But you also need to deliver leadership at political and managerial level to ensure this change happens and that's why it's important it's assessed in any peer review.
Slide: Finally, can you summarise the impact of the peer challenge for your council?
Graham Farrant (06:36 – 06:56):
We found that the peer challenge had a really strong impact on the way the council thinks about its position. For us this was about drawing a line under our history and to set some foundations for driving the council forward in the future looking at our two key strategic issues of regeneration agenda and the education egenda to make sure local people get the jobs we're creating.
Kevin Lavery (06:57 – 07:15):
If it's done well and you've got the right people doing it, they understand your issues, they involve you in the process so you're more likely to own the problem and the solution so you're more likely to do something about it, which leads to improvement and better results and that's the whole point.
Manjeet Gill (07:17 – 08:15):
The peer challenge process has strengthened the member / officer team. They shared where they were, they were thinking aloud and reflecting and it made people feel good. It also helped the focus reinforcing some of the things we needed to do – some of the training and development for members and officers and new ways of working was endorsed by an external body. That creates more buy-in as well as an action plan that we've built in to our corporate plan rather than create another bureaucracy.
9 July 2012