Cheshire East Council and the Local Government Association have published the full report of the corporate peer challenge undertaken earlier this year which concluded that "Cheshire East council has made significant improvements in recent years to address issues of misconduct and to transform the culture of the organisation."
The council invited the Local Government Association (LGA) to undertake the challenge session which involved a small team of local government officers and councillors, from other organisations, spending time at the council to provide challenge and share learning.
The report, discussed at a meeting of cabinet on today (Tuesday, 9th June) and approved for wider publication, sets out what the council is doing well, key suggestions and observations about how the council works. The report states:
● The council has made good progress over the past few years;
● The council delivers a number of high-quality services to the residents of the borough, which it should be proud of; and
● The culture change programme has made a profound difference to the way the organisation functions and to the experience of staff.
It goes on to make a number of key recommendations covering strategy and finance, governance, partnership working and culture, these include:
● Continue with the council's commitment to staff culture and wider workplace wellbeing
● Develop and launch a new Council Plan
● Provide clarity regarding the process, decisions and timelines for the introduction of the Committee System
● Refine the council's approach to strategic finance and create dialogue regarding collective appetite to risk:
● Communicate priorities for working in a partnership environment and learn the lessons of historic practice and approaches
● Refine the work programme and focus of Scrutiny Committees to support internal challenge and improvement
● Develop new approaches to engage councillors in neighbourhood working
● Review the findings of the 2019 Resident Survey to inform future relations with residents
Councillor Sam Corcoran, leader of the council, said: "I would like to thank the team from the LGA for supporting us with this challenge process. It was a very positive experience and the findings will be really valuable in our planning for the future.
"I am particularly pleased the peer group have recognised the remarkable progress made in improving the workplace culture here at Cheshire East Council. This work has been driven by both officers and members and we will continue to prioritise this. The peers also acknowledged the positive and inclusive approach taken by the joint administration.
"We also understand and recognise the financial challenge identified by the peers. We must work hard to ensure that we continue to have a sustainable budget with adequate financial reserves.
"The Covid-19 pandemic has reinforced the value of local government but it is also bringing significant additional pressures and appropriate funding has never been more important."
Councillor Craig Browne, deputy leader of the council said: "We know that Cheshire East has an enviable economy, with enviable potential for further sustainable growth. The peers recognised the importance of the council's partnerships in delivering our ambitions for inclusive growth and have suggested that we can do even more to engage partners around our shared ambitions.
"They also made helpful observations and recommendations regarding the implementation of the committee system for Cheshire East Council. We can use these insights to help us to deliver a new inclusive model that will enable effective decision making."
Councillor Jill Rhodes, Cheshire East cabinet member for corporate services, said: "I am pleased that the peers recognised the improvements in workplace culture.
"Through the challenge session, the peers heard about the positive working relationships between councillors and officers across the organisation. We would not have seen these improvements without the committed efforts of councillors, managers and staff, working together."
The peer team met with councillors, managers, members of staff and the council's partners – a total of 180 people. They focussed on the following areas:
● How the council sets and delivers its priorities;
● The council's understanding of Cheshire East – its residents and communities and as a place;
● The council's leadership role;
● How the organisation is led and managed; and
● The council's management of finances and resources.
The team also looked at the council's organisational culture and plans for transformation.
The full report of the LGA's corporate peer challenge can be found on the council's website.