A Peer Challenge is a process commissioned by councils across England which involves a small team of local government officers and elected members from several authorities visiting a council, at its request, to provide challenge and share learning. It is not an inspection.
Peer Challenges are improvement-focused and tailored to meet each council's needs. They are designed to complement and add value to a council's own performance and improvement plans. They are organised by the Local Government Association and most councils would expect to receive a Peer Challenge around every four years.
Runnymede Peer Challenge
A peer team came to Runnymede Borough Council to undertake a Peer Challenge in October 2019. The peer team considered the following five themes and questions which form the core components looked at in all local authority Peer Challenges, as they are areas that are critical to councils' performance and improvement:
- Understanding of the local place and priority setting: Does the council understand its local context and place and use that to inform a clear vision and set of priorities?
- Financial planning and viability: Does the council have a financial plan in place to ensure long term viability and is there evidence that it is being implemented successfully?
- Capacity to deliver: Is organisational capacity aligned with priorities and does the council influence, enable and leverage external capacity to focus on agreed outcomes?
- Political and managerial leadership: Does the council provide effective political and managerial leadership through its elected members, officers and constructive relationships and partnerships with external stakeholders?
- Governance and decision-making: Is political and managerial leadership supported by good governance and decision-making arrangements that respond to key challenges and enable change to be implemented?
The peer team prepared for the visit in advance by reading a suite of the Council's key documents and over the three days on site undertook over 30 meetings/interviews with over 90 people, both staff and external partners. This resulted in a report written by the peer team, and the key findings are shown below.
Key areas of strength
- The Council has taken bold decisions to invest in commercial property in order to manage the challenges of falling Revenue Support Grant (Government and other funding sources.
- The Council's success in generating commercial income is impressive.
- The Council has a positive reputation with partners; is well respected; and its strong financial position has afforded it the opportunity to deliver services and, in some instances, take on new services for partners.
- The Council operates established processes for business planning and consultation, which officers are familiar with and comfortable navigating.
- The Council is well positioned to drive forward a contribution towards health and social care integration within its localities building on existing practice and ambition.
- The Council recognises what residents' value and are concerned about and is acting positively on issues such as environmental protection, planning enforcement and improving affordable housing provision.
- Members speak clearly about their commitment to protecting valued services.
- The Council benefits from a committed workforce led by an experienced Chief Executive.
- Establish a clear corporate narrative that will take us through the next 10+ years.
- Enhance strategic capacity and place leadership.
- Take a broader perspective of our place shaping role to encompass physical assets; economic development; health and wellbeing; and skills.
- Establish a better equilibrium for our ambition for people and place.
- Be clearer about articulating our vision, the risks associated with it, and how we are managing them.
- Make commercialism part of the day job.
In response to the report the Council has produced an action plan