Outcomes: peer challenge reports

An expectation of the Corporate Peer Challenge offer is that councils will publish the findings of the process, and how they intend to use the feedback from peers. Councils can choose the timing of publication and are able to consider the issues and produce their own action plan or feed this into their business planning process or overall improvement plan. The vast majority of councils have published their reports or are planning to.

Here are a number of examples of councils who have published the outcomes from their peer challenge:

Worcestershire County Council

Clare Marchant, Chief Executive of Worcestershire County Council, said:

"Local government, unlike many other sectors, is uniquely placed to benefit from learning across the sector. The real sign of a mature organisation is one that continues to learn and welcomes challenge by others. The peer challenge is an absolutely critical element of this learning and for Worcestershire County Council has helped us build confidence in our direction of travel and ability to deliver as well as providing useful challenge and advice on areas where we could do more, for example creating space for innovation and being more open to taking risk."

Braintree District Council

Nicola Beach, Chief Executive of Braintree District Council said:

"The Peer Challenge of Braintree District Council – in October 2013 – was a catalyst for us to focus on how we can be more innovative in tackling our financial challenges, with the aim of becoming self-financing in the next three to five years. We have used the Peer Challenge report to develop and implement an action plan. This is already having an impact on our finances with a balanced budget proposed for 2015/16 and the budget gap in 2016/17 significantly reduced.  To date we have increased our return on investments through property purchases, frontline service investments to get a good return – e.g. leisure and gyms and car parks – and investing in equity markets; working with EELGA to develop commercial ideas and being more business-like and using New Homes Bonus to lever in external funding to boost economic growth. I am delighted with the commitment and interest that Members and staff have shown in taking forward the  action plan; it has galvanised the whole organisation."

Wiltshire Council

Jane Scott, Leader of Wiltshire Council said:

"Wiltshire Council doesn't believe in standing still. Doing nothing is not an option for us. Our vision – to create stronger and more resilience communities – hasn't changed in the four years since we became a unitary council, but the way we do things has, and continues, to change. We have a history of taking tough decisions; we knew that the merger to become a unitary council was the only option if we were to protect key front line services and deliver significant savings. Transformation is at the heart of everything we do; we have adopted a radical and  innovative approach to how we do things including working closely with local communities and partners, to make Wiltshire a better place. The peer challenge provided us with an opportunity to reflect on our achievements in the first four years, and to look ahead at the challenges we face in the future, and how we plan to manage these. The feedback has helped us to focus on where we can improve and develop and build on what we do well. It has been a valuable experience and it's always good to hold up the mirror and see how others view what you do. It was extremely positive to have an external assurance and affirmation that your staff are both aware and focused on the council's vision and that they visibly demonstrate a can-do attitude and commitment to making Wiltshire a better place."

Wirral Council

Wirral Council is currently developing and implementing plans to respond effectively to the significant challenges and issues identified in recent months. The council commissioned the corporate peer challenge to help test and strengthen the plans for improvement and provide reassurance that they are robust, relevant, and realistic. One of the areas that the council is working to improve is openness and transparency. With that in mind it decided to publish the peer team's feedback presentation immediately after the peer team visit.

Councillor Phil Davies, Labour Leader of the Council said:

"We have chosen to publish the Peer Challenge findings – both where the findings are encouraging and where we still need to improve. I believe it is vital to report the progress we have made to all Councillors and staff and especially to our residents who rely on our services."

Leader of the Conservative Group, Councillor Jeff Green added:

"The Peer Challenge process was impressive, and I am pleased that this initiative has proved so useful. I also believe that we are right to publish this first stage of the findings. It is progress towards a more truly transparent and honest Council."

Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Councillor Pat Williams, said:

"While the Peer Challenge Team did not tell us anything that we did not already know, it is good to have their assurance that the plans we have in place to improve are the right ones."

Chief Executive Graham Burgess said:

"Wirral's Corporate Peer Challenge took place at a crucial time for the Council; we are implementing our improvement plan to significantly strengthen corporate governance whilst also embarking on a large programme of consultation with local residents to address unprecedented cuts to funding. This was absolutely the right time for the peer team to check our progress and assess the strength of our future plans. I am pleased and reassured to say that the peer team's findings demonstrate Wirral is on the right track and helpfully identified key areas for close attention over the coming months. The peer challenge has been a real opportunity to celebrate Wirral's strengths and opportunities, including enormous opportunities for economic regeneration and investment in the area."

Norwich City Council

Councillor Brenda Arthur:

"We wanted to be able to really test how well Norwich City Council was doing and assess our plans for the future. Having an independent external view at a time when local government is facing many challenges has been extremely helpful and has enabled us to move forward with an increased sense of confidence. The positive feedback we received in respect of our improvements and efficiencies and our future blueprint has provided a ringing endorsement of the hard work and dedication of the city council's employees. We now need to make sure the people we serve are fully aware of the city council's strengths and the suggestions identified by the peer team for further development. Publishing the peer challenge report on our website will be one very good way of making this information widely available."

Read their report – note: this links to a pdf file on the Norwich City Council website.

London Borough of Sutton

Niall Bolger, Chief Executive, London Borough of Sutton:

"In the public sector it's as important as it's ever been for local people to know and understand how well their local authority is doing and its plans for the future. Working in challenging economic times and dealing with local people's expectations about the future of services make it even more important that we let people know what we are planning in the future.

We use a range of mechanisms to talk to local people, but publishing our peer challenge report on our website is just another way of letting people know how we are exploring issues for the future.

The most important element about the reporting process for me, was the ability of the council to time the publication of the report and explain to local people how we are responding to its findings."

Read their report – note: this links to a pdf file on the London Borough of Sutton website.

Swale Borough Council

Councillor Andrew Bowles, Leader, Swale Borough Council:

"We believe it's important for the council to report the outcomes from the peer challenge publicly. It's a key part of being accountable to local people and to enable Swale residents to understand how their council is tackling issues which are important to them.

The peer challenge gave us exactly what I hoped for in identifying areas for us to work on to improve how we deliver for people in Swale. It was a very good exercise for us individually and collectively. Letting our residents know about this is an important part of the process.

For some authorities there could be a worry about what the local paper thinks about how the council is performing. Not for us. It's important for us to explain we are working to make Swale a better place for its residents and visitors."

Read their report – on the Swale Borough Council website.




8 February 2017

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