With anything new it takes time to build up momentum and trust, but right from the start local government was very positive about the potential for sector-led improvement. Two years on from its launch, the LGA has developed and delivered a suite of tools that helps councils to work together to identify areas for improvement, share best practice and shape the future of local government.
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Our flagship offering, peer challenge, has already helped more than 130 councils, and another 70 are in the pipeline. These exercises are helping councils to make improvements across all areas, from child protection to communication and I am constantly receiving positive feedback.
Recently, Havering LBC leader Michael White (Con) said the peer challenge’s assessment of the borough’s transformation plans was helping it to deliver £40m of savings over the next four years. Unsurprisingly Cllr White is now encouraging other councils to take up the offer of peer challenge.
I’ve also heard from chief executives such as Lewisham LBC’s Barry Quirk who believe peer challenge is anything but a ‘soft option’. After all, the peers conducting the reviews are experts in the sector.
Those who have conducted reviews have also stressed the importance of looking at peer challenge as a two-way process. What better way to improve the way your own organisation does things than by spending a week looking at another council?
Peer challenge has also started to win friends among ministers and civil servants. Department for Communities & Local Government director of local government policy Patrick White has praised the way it enables councils to learn from one another in a “supportive but structured way” and has encouraged colleagues in national and local government to support the programme.
The sector-led approach can drive improvement in a way the old system of inspection and centrally driven targets simply couldn’t because, frankly, the naming and shaming of councils achieves very little.
By providing a more collaborative environment in which councils can share critical yet constructive feedback, identify areas for improvement and discuss new approaches, the sector-led approach is challenging councils to be more efficient as a whole and improve local services.
With peer reviewers and reviewees out in force spreading the word, the real issue for us now is to manage demand. We need all councils to work with us, get in touch and book their free corporate peer challenge so we can offer it when it suits them and pair them with the right peer reviewers for the job.
Peter Fleming (Con), chair, LGA improvement board