Today, local government remains the most efficient, transparent and trusted part of the public sector, despite the unprecedented challenges that councils continue to face head on.
Many of you will remember the national performance framework for local government, which measured council success through external inspection and targets. It is fair to say that a lot has changed since then. Our sector-led approach to improvement, which is at the heart of the LGA’s work, has proved far more successful than the national approach that it replaced.
The resulting programme of support is based on many years of local government experience of what works for improvement. It relies on the fundamental principles that local authorities are responsible for their own performance and are accountable locally (not nationally), while maintaining a sense of collective responsibility for the performance of the sector as a whole.
The role of the LGA is to provide the tools and support needed to make this happen.
The LGA also maintains an overview of the performance of the sector to help identify potential challenges and opportunities. We have recently published a series of evaluations of the LGA’s sector-led improvement offer (see www.local.gov.uk/publications). These demonstrate that this approach has the continued confidence and engagement of the sector and, as a result, the trust of the public.
Indeed, 96 per cent of council leaders and 95 per cent of chief executives say that support from the LGA has had a positive impact on their council.
A core element of our sector-led improvement offer is the peer challenge. Commissioned by individual councils, this involves a small team of ‘peers’ spending time at a council to offer challenge and share learning.
At the heart of the process are experienced local government councillors and officers, who last year alone donated 2,300 hours of their time as ‘peers’ at a council with which they have no direct association, to contribute to its improvement.
It is an incredibly powerful demonstration of our sector-led approach. As fellow local government practitioners, peers bring an immediate credibility, trust and mutual respect to the challenge process.
In our evaluations, 93 per cent of chief executives and leaders who responded said the corporate peer challenge at their council had had a positive impact on the delivery of their council’s priorities two years on.
Every local authority in England is entitled to a free corporate peer challenge every four or five years, at a time of their choosing. Each challenge will look at issues such as political and managerial leadership, financial sustainability and governance, as we know these are the building blocks of any well-performing council. However, the council can also suggest additional areas for the team to focus on.
In addition to corporate challenges, we offer peer challenges on a range of key areas – including finance and commercial, adult social care, safeguarding children, communications, fire and rescue, planning, culture and libraries, and health and care.
But the LGA’s sector-led improvement offer extends far beyond peer challenges. It includes bespoke training for councillors and officers, and specialist expertise to improve productivity or digital services; and covers everything from planning to scrutiny.
For example, we are developing a package of support that helps councils to reflect on their improvement journey and directs them to relevant resources, guidance and training. We are working with councils to co-produce the content, and to develop and pilot a self-improvement tool (see the next edition of first for more on this).
The different tiers of support and the range of tools and help available have been shaped by what councils have told us they need, and would be most helpful to them, depending on the intensity of the challenges being faced locally.
In this time of austerity and uncertainty, it is even more important that the sector takes responsibility for its own improvement, using the most innovative and ambitious ideas to reshape the future of local services. We are confident that the LGA’s sector-led improvement offer helps councils to achieve this important task.
Did you know?
- The LGA is the largest provider of councillor training in the UK.
- More than 1,150 peer challenges have been delivered since 2011.
- More than 2,300 councillors have been trained and developed through the LGA’s leadership programmes in three years.
- Every year, our National Graduate Development Programme recruits more than 100 management trainees. In total, more than 160 councils have taken part.
- This year, support from the LGA’s Productivity Experts programme has helped councils save around £42 million over 25 projects.
Sector-led improvement: what councils think
“The beauty of the support being sector-led was that it was all really tangible.”
Cllr Chris Read, Leader, Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council
“Sometimes you cannot see the issues that are stopping you from moving forward. A peer review will throw up those obstacles and identify them and show ways of overcoming those obstacles.”
Cllr Patrick Harley, former Leader, Dudley Metropolitan District Council
“The sense of external validation from people who understand how the sector works, in a way that’s not dogmatic but is adding value, is a good thing to do.”
John Biggs, Mayor, Tower Hamlets
What is a peer challenge?
- It is a process commissioned by a council.
- A small team of local government officers and councillors spend time at the council as peers, to provide challenge and share learning.
- It is a tool for improvement, not an inspection.
- It is carried out to your specification aimed at improving, not judging, your council.
- It does not deliver a scored assessment and is not reported to government.
- A corporate peer challenge will include leadership, governance, corporate capacity and financial resilience.
- You can have bespoke peer challenges focused on adult social care, children’s services and planning, among other areas.