This case study describes how Cheshire West and Chester Council developed a revised performance management framework (PMF) alongside its new council plan.
Cheshire West and Chester Council’s performance management framework (PMF) aims to:
- ensure clear links to its council plan
- better integrate performance and financial reporting
- streamline and simplify performance reporting
- focus on issues in the direct control of the council
- develop a more visual and accessible approach through better use of technology
- drive performance improvement.
The council's performance is reported to its cabinet four times a year in a joint performance and finance report submitted by the leader of the council (who has responsibility for performance) and the lead member for finance.
Before the report is produced, the council examines performance at directorate management team – and management board – level. Lead councillors meet with relevant directors to discuss highlights and challenges in their portfolio area.
At both mid-year and year-end, the report is considered by scrutiny before cabinet. The report is presented by the leader and lead member for finance, but all cabinet members attend scrutiny to answer questions regarding their portfolios. As well as supporting scrutiny of cabinet, the report also supports scrutiny to define their work programme and identify areas that would benefit from a deep-dive review of performance.
Alongside committee reporting, the council publishes an interactive performance dashboard on their website which allows users to understand performance and to drill down into specific areas of interest.
A revised performance management framework (PMF)
The council's revised performance management framework (PMF) was developed by a cross-party scrutiny 'task and finish' group which acted as a member steering group – supported by officers and an independent expert from the Local Government Association. The PMF was introduced alongside the new council plan in early 2020. The steering group received high-level training in performance management techniques and reviewed good practice before establishing a set of principles for good performance management. The principles focus on:
- alignment to council priorities and services
- accountability of the portfolio holder and lead director
- driving improvement
- a joined up approach
- robust data quality
- intelligent target-setting.
With the principles agreed, the team developed a reporting framework and mechanisms for driving improvement. For example, scrutiny is asked to consider areas of under-performance for inclusion in their workplans or as the focus of a ‘scrutiny in a day’ workshop. These workshops bring interested scrutiny members together with data and key officers to better understand current performance and improvement activity and make further recommendations.
Officers worked with service leads, directors and lead members to propose measures, develop the rationale for their inclusion in the PMF and set targets for four years. These proposals were reviewed and challenged by the scrutiny task group, which considered whether the proposed targets achieved the appropriate balance between ambition and realism. The recommendations of the 'task and finish' group and the PMF were presented to cabinet for approval in March 2020, resulting in a set of 78 agreed indicators.
A clear annual review process was agreed to ensure that the framework remains ambitious, realistic, and appropriate. The process involves officers working with portfolio-holders to review the measures and targets in light of policy developments, national and regional benchmarks, recent performance and the wider context – and then developing proposals. All proposed changes are considered by scrutiny as part of year-end performance reporting, with scrutiny recommendations, proposals and the year-end performance report then going to cabinet for a decision.
Presenting the information
The insight and intelligence team worked to create a visual, interactive performance dashboard using Microsoft Power BI –to brief councillors, senior officers and internal management meetings on performance. Findings are then published on the council’s website. The dashboard draws on data and commentary added, via Microsoft SharePoint, by officers from across the council.
Due to the potential difficulties of discussing an interactive dashboard in a committee setting, visuals from the dashboard are then copied into a static appendix that is used in committee reporting. This also provides a detailed record of historic performance. While the live dashboard shows trends in performance it only reports quarterly figures for the current year and performance commentary for the current period.
A more accessible and interactive approach
The new approach to performance reporting has been very well received by officers and councillors. Councillors have particularly welcomed the more visual approach. Within the dashboard, indicators can be viewed either by council priority or by the council’s organisational structure. Each indicator is presented on a tile which sets out its title, current performance, status, and a graph showing historic performance.
Users can click the 'information' button on each tile to open additional information such as the rationale for choosing the measure, commentary on current performance, future targets, performance against available benchmarks, and accountability. This enables a succinct picture of performance to be presented, but also allows individuals to drill down into detailed information if needed.
More effective analysis of performance
The new approach has led to slimmed down reports, less repetition and a greater visibility of performance trends and comparisons to benchmarks over time. It has also helped direct more in-depth scrutiny of issues such as delayed transfers of care and homelessness.
A challenge remains – to keep the PMF concise and proportionate given the demand for data across the organisation as well as data relevant to new areas of focus.
One action that has already been taken to help maintain focus is the publication of a ‘state of the borough’ report. This highlights borough-wide socio-economic data such as life expectancy and rates of unemployment. While this data is key to understanding local quality of life, it sits outside the direct control of the council. Establishing this report has led to the council creating a much more focused PMF with clear targets and accountability for each measure.
Reflecting changing context
The council has recently declared a poverty emergency which is not yet fully reflected in the PMF. As additional strategies and areas of work develop, decisions will need to be made on either expanding or amending the framework.