LBWF dodges the Local Government Association’s acclaimed peer review scheme, and it’s reasonable to ask: why?

Since 2011, the Local Government Association (LGA) has run and financed a scheme called Corporate Peer Challenge (CPC), which it sees as ‘a core element of our sector-led improvement offer to local authorities’.

As the name suggests CPC involves small teams of experienced officers and councillors visiting participating councils in order to understand how they work, challenge assumptions, and share learning, with a final written report offering both an accurate summary of current practice, and suggestions for improvement.

To date, the LGA has delivered more than 700 peer challenges, covering two-thirds of local authorities, and so it might be imagined that LBWF has participated at some point or other.

But far from it. A recent response to a Freedom of Information Act inquiry is unequivocal:

‘No LGA peer challenge reports have been completed in respect of Waltham Forest Council. Waltham Forest Council has not participated in the LGA peer challenge scheme’.

This is striking, and a bit of a mystery, for a couple of fairly obvious reasons.

First, recent Cardiff Business School research concludes that CPC definitely works, in particular providing internal reassurance about direction of travel, improving external reputation, provoking organisational and cultural change, and aiding in the process of service improvement.

Moreover, though engaging in CPC is not totally free, as hosts inevitably have to allocate staff time to the process, the sums involved are modest, particularly when measured against those that routinely arise from the employment of commercial consultants. The Cardiff team commented: ‘There was a unanimous view that CPC is a good example of the sector helping itself by providing improvement support at relatively low cost’.

So why is LBWF holding back?

It may be that senior Labour councillors are wary about outside evaluation because in the past it has tended to bite them on their rear ends. Who after all, can forget the farrago of the 2000s, when LBWF initially scored very badly in the Audit Commission star ratings system, indeed scraping the bottom; then suddenly gained top marks, cuing wild jubilation (accompanied by specially minted key rings); but ended the decade ranked below virtually every other London council?

More pertinently, worrying rumours persist about the state of play in the Town Hall today. Successive large-scale staff cuts, it is claimed, are undermining morale. There have been some alarming scrapes over safeguarding. Relations with the local charity and community sector, never good, are at an all time low. And so on.

In this context, it is perhaps appropriate to conclude with another of the Cardiff team’s observations, including the original emphasis:

‘We heard a consistent view that some authorities are keeping their heads down and don’t want to engage for fear of being “found out”. If this is the case, there is a danger that CPC may not be reaching the councils that need improvement support the most’.

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