Corporate Health Check: Castle Point Borough Council

12 December 2023: This Corporate Health Check of was the next stage in an ongoing, open, and transparent relationship that Castle Point Borough Council (CPBC) has with the LGA.

Background and context

Castle Point Borough Council (CPBC) has clearly demonstrated it is open to peer feedback, support, and challenge in aiding the councils ongoing improvement and this has been delivered through a range of measures including political mentoring support and development for the cabinet and senior officer leadership.

This next phase saw CPBC welcome a small team consisting of:

  • Cllr Jo Beavis – LGA Regional Independent Peer and Braintree District councillor
  • Gary Hughes – LGA Programme Manager

To undertake a one-day Corporate Health Check (CHC), in advance of the planned full Corporate Peer Challenge (CPC) in 2024.

The CHC assessed the progress being made by CPBC in addressing its priorities in enabling the council to get to a stable situation following a period of significant challenge including the death in service of its previous chief executive of 17 years, the appointment of two interim chief executives and a change in political administration. In July 2022 a new chief executive was appointed, who identified the following issues:

  1. Adverse internal audit report which has impacted the ability of the external auditor to sign off accounts and complete audit. Due to the sensitivity and complexity of the issues raised, it has taken more than a year to bring this to a point where resolution can be achieved. The issue is still outstanding but is nearing completion.
  2. Lack of single status job evaluation (CPBC are the only council in England without it) which has created job imbalance and a lack of transparency in how roles are created, appointed to and remunerated.
  3. Paper-based and inefficient systems and processes which have not kept up with digital advancements and are not customer orientated. 
  4. A top-heavy management structure which slowed down decision making, created inefficiency and eroded autonomy from staff; and
  5. A culture of siloed working with an “us and them” approach to member involvement with a lack of transparency and inadequate levels of member scrutiny.

The council is also facing some significant challenges with its planning function having been identified as at threat of designation due to the speed of decision making on major applications.


The peer team completed a desk top review of information provided by the council and performance information from LG Inform the local area benchmarking tool from the LGA, which was then considered when the team met over the course of a day on the 12 December 2023 with the leadership team, councillors and staff from the council.

Prior to the health check, the peer team received:

  • a position statement.
  • information related to the council’s programme of transformation and 
  • other supporting documents.

A coalition administration took office in May 2022, unseating a Conservative administration which had been in power for over 20 years. This was a significant change which was driven by public’s rejection of the then local plan but also because of the emergence of the People’s Independent Party (PIPs) as serious challengers to the Conservative domination on the mainland of Castle Point with the Canvey Island Independent Party (CIIPs) having been a long-established opposition group but was insufficient on its own to form a majority administration. 

The coalition was further cemented in May 2023 when the PIPs increased their representation, taking seven out of the eight Conservative seats which were in contention. The current political make-up of the Council (41 seats) is as follows:

  • CIIPs – 15 seats 
  • PIPs – 16 seats 
  • Conservatives – eight seats 
  • Non-aligned independent – one seat 
  • Vacant – one seat (following the recent passing of a CIIP councillor)

And as mentioned in July 2022, a new permanent chief executive was appointed following a period of uncertainty where two interim chief executives were in post. 

The new chief executive, therefore inherited an organisation that was struggling with organisational grief and recovery, instability and, latterly, the demands of a new administration which had a lot of ambition and drive but had never been in power before, with some of whom had never been councillors before.

Transforming together

Members agreed with the chief executive that whole organisation re-design was needed to address the various issues identified and that the implementation of single status should be deployed at the same time. This programme is named Transforming Together and has been delivered across four workstreams:

  1. Organisation Re-design
  2. New Ways of Working
  3. Workforce Development
  4. Communications & Engagement

It was clear from the documentation and the feedback received that CPBC has made significant progress, against its transformation plans and is a completely different organisation. The chief executive has a new senior officer leadership team soon to be in place with 12 assistant directors appointed to support the strategic and operational delivery. Staff have been engaged in the transformation programme through the Key Change Champions network and this approach has made for positive outcomes with staff really up for the change ahead, with a strong culture of support and collaboration.

It was also clear that the role played by the chief executive has been instrumental to the positive changes. We heard throughout the day that she is a strong and effective chief executive, who is visible to staff, a positive driving force for change and someone who is resilient, bold, and hard working. 

There has also been positive changes to the councils approach to communications and engagement, with a new and highly positive Castle Point Together Magazine being launched that clearly explains CPBC’s desire to change and improve. This magazine has been distributed to all Castle Point residents and encourages them to get involved in the future development of the borough and in particular the development of the new Castle Point Plan.

There is however an understanding that a lot of energy and activity has been focussed fixing the ‘hidden wiring’ of the council. Despite a focus on internal activity, the council has been delivering on customer-facing projects and improvements which demonstrate how the administration is changing the way in which the council works. Many examples were provided in the CPBC position statement but a few of note are:

  • The Castle Point Plan (CPP) – the development of a new local plan has adopted a fresh approach, working closely with government and undertaking early engagement with stakeholders. The council articulates its vision for “place” as part of the work of the CPP Board which meets regularly and issues public communications after every meeting.
  • The new approach to the CPP aligns with the community engagement work which is also being delivered – with new branding which will apply to all our future engagement/consultation work. It presents a new image for the council which we will be looking to use and develop more and more in the future. 
  • An improved approach to press/media and public communications – with press releases regularly made following good news stories in agendas and building capability within the organisation to lead this going forward. 
  • Refurbishment proposals for a shopping centre on Canvey Island – reinvesting c£1m of earned income back into an internal refresh.

In addition, the council is also getting the basics right and has set a balanced budget for 23/24 and is working on the 24/25 budget. They have also commissioned a review of their assets and are reviewing the council’s constitution, the operation of scrutiny and standards and audit committees.  There is now a clear understanding that the council needs to continue its focus on residents.

Focus on residents

With the strong and effective political drive to focus on customer-facing projects and improvements and to ensure residents are fully engaged throughout this journey CPBC could benefit from looking at how the political leadership works more effectively with the senior officer leadership to create a strong Executive Team (ET).

The introduction of good governance and an effective structure to enable the ET to drive improvement and deliver the councils vision and priorities is crucial. The engagement of Assistant Directors (ADs) in this structure is also encouraged and CPBC should consider how best to engage ADs and leading politicians in constructive dialogue and debate.

This will also be important with CPBC considering the adoption of a strong leader model of governance and the move to four-yearly elections, which provides a fantastic opportunity to grasp these challenges and make changes that will empower staff and provide the assurance required for members. 

To drive this agenda CPBC requires a clear vision and corporate/community plan.

The current vision of being a great place, with great people and One Community with a focus on the economy and growth, people, place and environment is unclear and needs revisiting. The council's current corporate plan finishes in 2024 and this provides CPBC with an excellent opportunity to develop a new vision for the borough with a clear delivery plan behind it.

The chief executive is clear that the council lacks several key strategic documents. The peer team would, however, encourage the council to keep up the pace and drive it currently has and not to spend too much time developing documents but rather to put its energies into the co-design of a compelling and longer-term place-based narrative and a clear and concise ‘community plan’ that brings together these strategies into a single document that can be owned by councillors and staff and communicated to residents.

Maximising the workforce to deliver this plan

As referenced previously CPBC has been through a challenging period, however, it was clear from the staff that we met that they are up for the challenges ahead and are keen to be part of CPBC’s improvement.

The council has needed to bolster its staff by engaging external interim support across several areas and there is slight concern of a lack of capacity when they go. It is therefore important that the interims undertake an effective transition out of the organisation and provide the information and tools to enable the council to be self-sustaining. This was already happening with the communications function with the interim manager developing a future communications plan including workforce requirements for the council. We suggest all interims undertake a similar task.

In addition, CPBC needs to consider how best to harness the enthusiasm and motivation of the new Assistant Director cohort and ensure they are properly engaged and developed.  We welcome the focus on modernising the council and investing in the development of CPBC staff and suggest that considering an ‘awayday’ with the Cabinet early in 2024, would be a positive way forward.

Summary and next steps

It is clear to the peer team that significant progress has been made and that plans are in place to address future challenges.  There are some risks ahead with the report into Senior Manager Pay and Conditions and planning performance, that could derail this positive progress and the LGA will continue to support and work alongside Castle Point Borough Council to support its improvement through the LGA’s Principal Adviser [email protected], via the LGAs Programme Manager, [email protected] or via the LGA Regional Member Peer, Cllr Joanne Beavis [email protected].

For any questions about the LGA’s Health Check please contact:

Gary Hughes, LGA National Programme Manager

[email protected]