Warwickshire County Council – systematically reviewing effectiveness

The Council is proactive in systematically reviewing the effectiveness of its governance, systems and processes.

What is meant by council-wide assurance? What does it mean in Warwickshire in particular?

The Council is proactive in systematically reviewing the effectiveness of its governance, systems and processes.  The organisation’s culture stresses the importance of good governance, and this is visibly led by senior political and managerial leaders. 

How does this work in practice?

A governance stocktake was undertaken towards the end of 2022 to understand the views of the Council’s managers about the Council’s governance and to identify areas that need a deeper dive or improvement. Using the Governance Risk and Resilience Framework published by the Centre for Governance and Scrutiny (CfGS), workshops were held with staff across the different managerial levels to explore the seven characteristics of governance.

Each of the workshops focused on a specific characteristic, looking at positive and negative behaviours associated with each. Officers scored where they felt the Council currently sits on each behaviour. Participants at each workshop came from areas across the Council to enable a broad debate. The Chatham House rule applied to all meetings, to encourage participants to be open and frank in their discussions. 

A report was taken to the Council's Corporate Board in February 2023 providing summaries of the discussions in relation to each characteristic under the framework and highlighting those areas where potential risks were identified alongside recommendations to mitigate them.

Following the stocktake, governance training sessions were provided to senior officers – particularly report writers - across the Council by the Governance Legal Team and work is underway to offer this training through the Council’s on-line learning hub. Other actions prompted by the stocktake include refreshed Code of Conduct training for elected members which is delivered annually and includes case studies, and a review of the Council’s Complaints Policy to provide greater clarity for both the public and officers.  An update on the governance training introduced following the stocktake and the number of sessions delivered was provided to Audit and Standards Committee in November 2023. The stocktake will be repeated every two years.

The stocktake is one of the ways the Council demonstrates its detailed ‘grip’ of assurance and governance to its Audit and Standards Committee.  The Annual Governance Statement, which is considered by the Audit and Standards Committee and taken to Full Council for approval, reflects the findings at a higher level.

The Council holds an annual ‘Do the Right Thing’ week to raise awareness of good governance to all staff. During the week, communications highlight ‘cautionary tales’ and what to look out for and share information about key policies and procedures.  

Which roles make a particular difference?

The Council’s political and managerial leadership set the culture of the organisation and are clear in their communications that good governance is important, keeping the Council safe and enabling it to deliver for residents. There are regular conversations about audit, standards and probity both at senior management level and within the organisation that strengthen and reinforce the importance of good governance. 

In a culture of mutual trust and respect, in which there is good understanding of respective roles and responsibilities, members come to the Monitoring Officer for advice and are respectful of officer advice.

The Monitoring Officer facilitates a culture of openness and approachability in which officers are able to share any concerns with her and there is a formal process whereby legal officers can do this on a weekly basis.

The corporate statutory officers meet together monthly to review governance risks to the Council, facilitated by input from legal and finance officers.

What are your top tips?

  • It’s easy for operational needs to overwhelm proactive governance work.  In Warwickshire a dedicated governance legal team helps to support this balance.
  • Develop an annual governance cycle and governance work programme to ensure that all policies and procedures are regularly reviewed, enable the monitoring of upcoming work and strengthen proactive planning.
  • Use diverse communication channels to get messaging across to staff. Broadcasts from the Senior Leadership Team and within each Directorate can be very effective in spreading important messages relating to governance.
  • Look outwards to learn from others to strengthen your approach.
  • Encourage a culture of openness by actively listening to colleagues, avoiding defensiveness and being responsive to any governance concerns they may have.

Contact for further information

Sioned Harper – Senior Solicitor and Team Manager – Governance

[email protected]