The Royal Borough has made “good progress” where needed as a council over recent years and also has a clear direction to strengthen further, thanks to a positive shift in strategic leadership and the culture of the organisation.
That’s the initial feedback from an independent Corporate Peer Challenge, completed last week, which saw the council invite an external team to interview councillors, staff, residents and external partners, as part of reviewing the council’s performance.
Councils have a Corporate Peer Challenge on a regular basis, organised free-of-charge via the Local Government Association, to provide a practitioner perspective and “critical friend” feedback to support ongoing improvement across the sector.
A Challenge Team drawn from other councils looks at the five core areas of: local priorities and outcomes, organisational and place leadership, governance and culture, financial planning and management, and capacity for improvement.
Despite the challenges of Covid, the review’s initial feedback is the Royal Borough has made “good progress” where needed since its previous review in 2017 and is already well aware of further work required, guided by its new Corporate Plan and strong leadership.
The review found that Duncan Sharkey, who was appointed as Chief Executive in 2019, is recognised by councillors, staff and stakeholders as leading a positive change agenda, which has included establishing a new senior leadership team.
The Challenge Team also recognise that the council is delivering services at reasonably low cost and key statutory services are good. Covid, they say, has helped the authority reconnect with residents and community groups, and this needs to be built on into the future through embedding new ways of working.
Councillor Andrew Johnson, the council leader, said: “All councils and places are on a journey – there’s always more to do and new challenges ahead – but this review is positive independent validation of how far we’ve come and our clear sense of direction for further improvements for the benefit of our place and communities.
“As a council and a borough, we have a huge amount going on and I am pleased with the progress in recent years: there’s still more to do but we are on a much stronger footing and a huge credit to Duncan and the whole staff team.”
Mr Sharkey added: “We have prioritised investing in the strong foundations required, both in culture and strategic leadership, to build a sustainable people-centred council with the stability, clear direction and capacity to improve further and lead our place.
“The Corporate Peer Challenge review has been a constructive and positive process, showing we’ve focussed on the right areas for improvement and helping to endorse this work and crystallise thinking around our next steps. I would like to thank all staff for their hard work, as well as the more than 100 people – staff, parish councils, the public, partners and councillors – who participated in the review. I would also like to thank the Challenge Team and LGA for their hard work and support.”
In the coming weeks, the council will receive a detailed feedback report and then develop an action plan responding formally to its findings, both of which will be published on the council’s website.