Developing peer challenge

The LGA’s peer challenge offer is effective and well regarded by the sector. A recent survey found that every council that had received a corporate peer challenge was very or fairly satisfied, with more than eight in ten councils being very satisfied.

By bringing together political and managerial leadership, through the use of member and officer peers, peer challenge provides robust, strategic and credible challenge and support to councils. Peer challenge also enhances the capacity of the sector and helps to avoid insularity within councils.

The LGA is keen to ensure that its peer challenge offer can continue to be enhanced to ensure it meets the evolving needs of the sector.

An internal peer challenge stocktake highlighted a number of areas of development for peer challenge. In addition, the recent independent evaluation of sector led improvement (SLI) and the successful experience of providing Remote Peer Support for councils has provided valuable learning, including on how peer challenge can make better use of technology.  

The lessons from the stocktake and other feedback are being used to make further improvements to our peer challenge programme. Key areas for development include:

  • Greater focus on using data to inform peer teams’ findings
  • Further emphasis on engaging with communities as part of the peer challenge process
  • Increased flexibility in terms of peer challenge delivery
  • More peer support and challenge for councils in addressing peer teams’ recommendations and an expectation that councils should produce an action plan following a peer challenge to ensure continuing impact
  • Greater focus on capturing the learning from peer challenges for the sector, including identifying good practice
  • Consistency of language

Peer Challenge, and in particular corporate peer challenge, will continue to be a key part of a refreshed sector led improvement offer.  It is important that this offer reflects the views of councils and so engagement activity is underway including through Principal Advisers and dedicated events, such as the recent SLI webinar.

Peer Challenge Stocktake – Executive Summary

Peer challenge is a very well-regarded element of the LGA’s sector-led improvement offer.  It has evolved over time in response to experience and changing needs and has very high take-up in the sector.  In 2019, 93% of officers and 82% of senior councillors stated that peer challenge is very or fairly useful in providing an external view on performance.  98% of councils receiving a Corporate Peer Challenge in 2018/19 said that it had a positive impact on the delivery of the council’s priorities.  Unique aspects of peer challenge as a tool for continuing improvement include its use of peers with ‘real-world’ experience and its political dimension.

This stocktake comes at a time when the LGA is evaluating the effectiveness of sector-led improvement and is designed to contribute to a debate in the sector on the subject. 

This review has identified many strengths in terms of peer review’s reach, value and effectiveness.  It also notes that peer review exists as part of a suite of tools for improvement: it will not be appropriate in all circumstances, and it needs to be clearly linked to other relevant means of support.  The review heard a number of ‘myths’ about peer review: these are explored and addressed (for example, it has been suggested that many reports are not published, yet in reality only one Corporate Peer Challenge report between April 2016 and October 2019 – 0.6% – was not published).

This review has identified areas for development, some of which echo findings of Shared Intelligence’s evaluation of sector-led improvement.  These include:

  • Greater involvement of the sector in the development of the offer;
  • More effective communication of peer review and its benefits in the sector and beyond;
  • Greater and more systematic use of data to inform peer review recommendations;
  • An increased focus on follow-up action after peer reviews and demonstrating impact;
  • Further work to increase the consistency and quality of peer reviews;
  • Increased training and support to peers;
  • More consistent and effective work to capture and disseminate learning for the sector arising from peer reviews.

The LGA is currently piloting new approaches to peer review, including the use of remote meetings, in response to the COVID pandemic: this stocktake recommends that lessons learned from these pilots inform the further development of the offer.