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The concept of peers inspecting and challenging each other should be inherent in local government culture, accordin...
The concept of peers inspecting and challenging each other should be inherent in local government culture, according to the Improvement & Development Agency.

This is the message the organisation aims to promote as it carves out its future direction. It wants to up the debate on improvement, with the firm philosophy that local government can help itself.

'We want to bring in a culture of peer support,' said acting executive director John O'Brien. 'We've done a lot already but we want to take it up a notch.'

The IDeA hopes to launch the debate at the annual conference of the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives & Senior Managers next week.

'At SOLACE we will be saying we've been around for three-and-a-half years and have done a lot of things, but we think it's reached a point where we need to pull it all together,' said Mr O'Brien. 'Improvement has to come from within. If you impose too much external intervention things will get better in some places for some time, but it will be episodic and won't be sustainable. I believe there's a distinctive contribution people within local government can make, certainly in the political/managerial interface.

'So what do we think makes for improvement? We're trying to outline some of those proposals and begin a debate.'

The theme runs through IDeA's current work. Discussions with the Audit Commission about how the self-assessment part of the comprehensive performance assessment for district councils can be challenged have examined the possibility that councils might get together in groups to conduct peer reviews among themselves. IDeA could help facilitate this.

There will be an emphasis on self-assessment in the CPA for district councils, and the likelihood is that councils will want to use outsiders to challenge them.

'Our improvement programme will be an important part of that, but it will not be exclusive to us,' added Mr O'Brien. 'There could be informal networks across the country. We're also working with the commission to stimulate that other network, to generate enthusiasm for the peer concept.'

The process is good for local government, he said, because it 'puts a premium on the self-assessment part of the process and lessens external inspection'.

He is also looking at ways of making peer review more affordable for district councils. They include bidding for more top slice funding to support the programme, or scaling it down.

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