To receive a report from the Head of Democratic Services providing details of the LGA Corporate Peer Challenge carried out in November 2022, the action plan established in response to the 15 recommendations that were made and the input of scrutiny into the Council’s overall LGA Peer Challenge response.
The Head of Democratic Services presented a report for Members’ consideration on the Scrutiny approach to LGA Corporate Peer Challenge.
In December 2022 the Executive Board, as part of its consideration of the LGA Corporate Peer Challenge findings, recommended that the Peer Challenge report and its recommendations should be referred to scrutiny for further consideration, this report is designed to initiate that process.
Whilst the findings from the Peer Challenge are relevant to all scrutiny boards it is the remit of Strategy and Resources Board that covers the Council’s corporate planning and policy development services and is therefore considered to be the most appropriate for this work item. However, to ensure that all Boards are represented the Chairs from the four other Scrutiny Boards had been invited to attend the meeting.
The Chair welcomed Judith Hurcombe, the LGA Peer Challenge Team Manager to the meeting.
In attendance for this item were:
· Neil Evans - Director of Resources
· Mariana Pexton - Chief Officer Strategy and Improvement (soon to be new Director of Resources)
· Alex McEwan-Hannant - Head of Corporate Support
· Judith Hurcombe - LGA Peer Challenge Team Manager
· Cllr James Lewis - Leader of Council
· Cllr Coupar - Executive Member for Resources
· Cllr Barry Anderson - Chair of Scrutiny Board Environment, Housing and Communities
· Cllr Abigail Marshall-Katung - Chair of Scrutiny Board Adults, Health and Active Lifestyles
Judith Hurcombe addressed the Scrutiny Board and provided the following information:
· LGA Peer Challenges happen every 4 to 5 years. They are at a time chosen by the council with the process being the same for all councils. A timetable is developed, position statements provided by the Council, and these along with the inspection visit itself are used to make an assessment against the LGA Framework.
· Early in November, the team arrived on the Monday evening with the team being formally welcomed and left on the Friday morning. The team speak to Members, officers, stakeholders and partners. The team then provide feedback on their findings and quickly produce a report which is published. An action plan is produced in response to recommendations and was provided to members as part of the agenda pack.
· The team had noted that the council’s values are lived and breathed by the Council and recognised by its partners. High level objectives are delivered on the ground which is good for partner organisations who are contributing to shared goals and ambitions.
· The Council was found to benefit from a stable political leadership. Initiatives such as Child Friendly City and Net Zero by 2030 were obvious and visible priorities that can be seen throughout the organisation.
· The Council was found to have good working relationships with partner organisations and the work with anchor organisations is particularly valuable. It was noted there was more work that could be done in relation to locality working.
· The budget gap and funding reductions were also noted as a challenge felt both in Leeds and across the local government sector.
Cllr Lewis, Leader of Council said that the work undertaken by the LGA was appreciated. The City had shown it could face challenges in its response to Covid and through changes such as the new Mayoral West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA). It was acknowledged that Cllr Coupar reports to Executive Board on a monthly basis to ensure that Members are kept up to date on the Council’s budget which is a process that is not done by all local authorities. Cross-party working groups and having a cross-party Executive Board membership ensure there is openness and transparency within the Council. The Council recognised that there was work required to strengthen locality working and the actions for this were set out in the action plan. The action plan would be progressed through strategic and budget planning, with monitoring and reporting done through existing channels so as not to create additional processes and pressure on colleagues.
Responding to questions from the Scrutiny Board, Members were given the following information:
· It was recognised that across the council and other public sector organisations there was an issue with ‘staff burnout’ having responded well to the pressures of Covid. However, it was the view that the council was coping relatively well under the increased demands for services and fewer staff. It was acknowledged that the Council was supporting staff and had made a good start on addressing issues of ‘burnout’. Colleagues were supporting each other, with staff feeling valued and supported with a good wellbeing offer but did feel the pressure, but those spoken to felt good about working for the Council. This issue will be picked up in the March meeting in the focus on the attendance. Members also raised the issue of ‘Councillor burnout’ and it was noted that it had not been mentioned during the LGA review, but it was a good point as Councillors are on the frontline dealing with pressures in the community. The point was made about the action on Member Development.
· It was acknowledged that more work was required to look at how the Council and partner organisations worked across ward boundaries. A key point being the need to look at aligning services within boundaries, where possible, to enhance coherence, remove duplication and improve the strategic overview and local service delivery and consider how different communities in the city access services.
· It was noted that the LGA Team had spoken to 160 people during their time in Leeds. It was acknowledged that this was a snapshot of what was happening, and the people spoken to were from a range across the Council and had included Elected Members including Executive Board Members and Scrutiny Board Chairs, frontline staff, and the voluntary sector. It was the view that a good range of people had been selected for the process.
· It was noted that there is to be further scrutiny work on locality working and Local Area Plans with a discussion about Community Committees already developing with the Executive Member for Communities and the Head of Locality Partnerships. Members welcomed the focus on locality working and were of the view that consultation with ward members and communities was important as they know what is required for the area. It was also noted that further delegation of services and budgets to community committees could be considered as part of a review of locality working, a good recent example of this being delegation of Youth Activity Funding to the local level.
· It was the view that the action plan was good but might also benefit from more details in some areas and clear steps as to how to achieve the objectives will be delivered. It was acknowledged that locality working should be based on indices of deprivation as no two wards in the city were the same. The Scrutiny Board were encouraged that this action plan was produced by the council following on from the recommendations received from the LGA Peer Review. It was the view that the council needs to think about the evidence base and data to support decision making.
· It was acknowledged that the council was performing well in relation to staff networks following comments from a previous review undertaken in 2016 and work undertaken by this Board in the past two municipal years. However, there were still areas which needed to be addressed such as Carers where more structure and support could be developed given the volume of staff who provide care in their wider lives.
· The Scrutiny Board were advised that the Procurement Peer Review was a separate piece of work and had not been looked at as part of this LGA review, as nobody on the Peer Review team was a specialist in this specific area.
· It was recognised that the Council was one of the largest in the country and it could be difficult to share learning and best practice regionally, but Leeds is in a good position and has the leadership strength to lead on that and could do more in this area in the future.
· In relation to the net zero projects the Board were informed that progress on the District Heating System was continuing and was the biggest in the country, however, more funding was required.
· It was noted that the term BAME had been used in the report and the LGA Team Manager welcomed the feedback and challenge and noted that the LGA is working on how it approaches EDI and will take the comments back on use of the terminology.
The Chair thanked Judith Hurcombe for her attendance at the meeting and it was appreciated the work that had been undertaken to produce the report.
RESOLVED - To:
a) Note the contents of the report and provide comments on the LGA Peer Challenge and how scrutiny can have input into the action plan that is being developed in response.
b) Note that any comments or recommendation arising from this item will be used to shape the peer challenge response as appropriate.
c) Consider how the Peer Challenge recommendations could feature in work programming discussions for municipal year 2023/24.