Agenda item

Corporate Peer Challenge - Action Plan


The Chief Executive presented the Corporate Peer Challenge report and action plans for the Executive Committee’s consideration.


The Committee was informed that the Corporate Peer Challenge had been requested at a Bromsgrove Council meeting held in December 2022, following the authority’s receipt of a Section 24 Notice from the external auditors, Grant Thornton.  The decision had subsequently been taken to invite the Local Government Association (LGA) to undertake a joint Corporate Peer Challenge for Redditch Borough Council and Bromsgrove District Council. 


There were a number of key themes that were addressed in all Corporate Peer Challenges undertaken through the LGA but in addition, Councils could ask for the peers to focus on particular areas; for this Corporate Peer Challenge, a request had been made for peers to focus on governance and culture as well as Council finances, due to the points raised in the Section 24 Notices issued to both authorities.  The Corporate Peer Challenge team had comprised representatives from a number of different Councils, including elected Member representatives, and their report had been published prior to the local elections in May 2023. 


The Corporate Peer Challenge report had contained a number of recommendations and these had already been reviewed by the Corporate Management Team (CMT).  In some cases, Officers had identified that action was already being taken to address the points that had been raised.  The appendices to the report provided further detail on the action being taken and Members were asked to note the following key points:


·             The Corporate Peer Challenge had emphasised that, given the financial challenges for local government, the Council needed to identify clear priorities and to ensure that these informed the content of the authority’s Medium Term Financial Plan (MTFP).

·             In respect of the governance issues that had been identified, Members were asked to note that there was already a lot of work being undertaken with respect to Member training, as part of the new Member induction process, as well as the ongoing review of the Council’s constitution by the Constitutional Review Working Party (CRWP).  In addition, CMT had identified that all Member briefings on particular topics might need to be organised on a case-by-case basis moving forward.

·             A lot of work had already been undertaken in respect of the Workforce Strategy, which had previously been approved by Members, and a high-level action plan had been developed.  Many of the projects within this plan were complex and required action from Heads of Service and managers and progress with this would be monitored.  Some of the priorities underpinning this would be considered by CMT shortly and would thereafter be managed by a Strategy Working Group.

·             In respect of the Council’s approach to agile working, an Agile Working Policy had been developed following a pilot of agile working arrangements.  The policy took into account best practice and staff briefings had been delivered to help communicate the terms of the policy.  There was an Agile Working Project Board, which assessed implementation from a strategic perspective, although service managers would be responsible for ensuring that the policy was applied in the most appropriate way to meet the needs of their customers.  Residents, tenants and the business would all be prioritised when determining how agile working should apply in practice in different contexts across the organisation and performance management would apply to ensure that services continued to be delivered effectively.

·             The Finance Delivery Plan detailed the action that was being taken to address the issues with financial management that had been highlighted in the Section 24 Notice.  This included the provision of an Accounting Policies report for consideration at every meeting of the Audit, Governance and Standards Committee, the frequency of which had increased from four to six meetings per year in the 2023/24 municipal year.  The report would update the Committee on the progress that was being achieved and any issues with non-compliance.


The Corporate Peer Challenge process usually concluded with a follow up visit by some of the peers to review the progress that had been achieved.  Generally, these follow up meetings occurred within six months of the original visit, however, due to the forthcoming departure of the current Chief Executive, it was suggested that Members might wish to review those timescales to involve the new Chief Executive in due course.


Following the presentation of the report, Members commented on a number of points in detail:


·             The information included in the report regarding community engagement and involving Members in this process.  It was noted that the Council needed to try to consult with more than 800 people when undertaking community engagement and that the authority also needed to try to engage with a wider and more representative demographic.

·             The possibility of holding residents’ forums for engagement on particular issues.

·             The potential to improve engagement with more Members in Council business.

·             The lack of financial monitoring reports for the period leading up to the Council receiving a Section 24 Notice and the weaknesses with risk management that had been identified in the notice.  Officers highlighted that reports received throughout the 2022/23 municipal year had already addressed this issue and would continue to be considered at Committee meetings and that Risk Management had been discussed quarterly at both Executive and Audit, Governance and Standards Committee throughout 2022/23.

·             The need for effective systems to enable Members to report casework and to receive responses from Officers more swiftly than the existing ten-day response rate for the Housing Department.

·             The potential for Redditch Executive Committee members to hold joint meetings with Bromsgrove Cabinet Members as suggested by the Corporate Peer Challenge team.  The Leader explained that he would be supportive of this where the two authorities were considering reports on the same subjects and where it could be demonstrated that this would have a beneficial impact in terms of reducing demands on officer time.  However, Members were asked to note that, following the local elections in May 2023, Bromsgrove District Council was exploring various different options which might impact on the potential to work together in this way moving forward.

·             Concerns were raised regarding the timeframes in which reports were provided to Members, particularly scrutiny Members, and the need for this to be improved.  It was noted that the Council was compliant with the requirement to publish agenda packs at least five clear working days before a meeting and the focus of Overview and Scrutiny in previous years on only pre-scrutinising the Executive reports had impacted on timeframes for scrutiny Members to receive reports, which would be available once published for the Executive Committee meetings.  Adopting a different approach to pre-scrutinising issues more holistically, taking into account wider issues than just the Executive Committee’s report, could help to address this problem alongside potentially reviewing the timing of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee meetings in relation to Executive Committee meetings moving forward.

·             The progress that had been made with the works on the Town Hall hub and the extent to which the financial figures identified for this work were final in a context in which rates of inflation had increased.  Officers explained that the figures had been based on quotes provided in the summer of 2022/23.  The exact figures remained to be determined, subject to the outcomes of the library consultation and the subsequent procurement process being undertaken in July – August 2023.

·             The action that had been taken to date with respect to increasing use and upgrading the Council’s Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system.  Officers explained that staff had attended recent conferences and were in contact with external experts regarding this matter.

·             The members of the Corporate Peer Challenge team were thanked for their hard work and support.  Members and Officers who had contributed evidence during the challenge were also thanked for their contributions.


During consideration of this item, Members referred specifically to the Overview and Scrutiny Committee’s pre-scrutiny of the Corporate Peer Challenge report at a meeting held on Thursday 8th June 2023.  Members commented that there had been a detailed discussion of the report at that meeting and the recommendation that had been made had been based on the evidence that had been considered.  There was general consensus that the recommendation proposed sensible action and it was agreed that the recommendation should therefore be endorsed.




1)          the Local Government Association (LGA) Corporate Peer Challenge (CPC) Feedback report which took place in March 2023 be noted;


2)          the Council’s response and supporting action plans be endorsed; and


3)          That the following additions be inserted to the Council’s Corporate Peer Challenge Action Plan (response to Peer Challenge recommendations) included at Appendix B to the report:


Recommendation 1: “to produce a new engagement plan so that residents have the opportunity to shape new Council policies at the development stage. The plan should be co-produced with residents ensuring a broad selection of people with no political bias are involved in producing the plan.”


Recommendation 4: “that the Implementation Plan for Agile working (included at Appendix F) includes the assessment of the needs of residents in accordance with the Council’s Agile Working Policy. This should include undertaking an Equality Impact Assessment (EIA).



Supporting documents: