During the week commencing 2nd October 2006 an IDeA led team carried out a corporate peer review at Leicester at the invitation of the Council.
The visit to Leicester City Council was part of the national Local Government Improvement Programme (LGIP) of peer reviews of local authorities, arranged by the Improvement and Development Agency for local government (IDeA). A peer review is designed to help an authority assess its current achievements and its capacity to change.
The basis for the assessment is a specially constructed benchmark of the ideal, fully effective local authority. The benchmark focuses on four key organisational themes: leadership and governance, customer focus and community engagement, resource and performance management and organisation and people. The benchmark has been revised to take account of comprehensive performance assessment (CPA) 2005, so that the council could use the peer review as a challenge to the views it holds about itself.
Leicester City Council has come a long way in a short time. Judged as ‘fair’ in its 2002 CPA it has improved strongly to become four star and ‘improving well’ in 2005.
The council has a justifiably high reputation, and is recognised nationally, for its work on equality and community cohesion. It works hard to ensure that its services are delivered fairly. There is a great deal of pride locally in the city, and the council is ambitious for the city and its residents. The council has a well established culture of consultation and accessible communications for residents.
Across the board a high proportion of council performance indicators are improving. Good local support for the council’s key priorities of education and the environment has enabled it to make tough decisions about putting scarce resources in those areas.
The council has worked well with partners particularly on major projects such as regeneration in the cultural quarter, and locally delivered programmes such as children’s centres. Local work in neighbourhoods on community safety for example has been effective and new neighbourhood managers and additional area committee budgets show a commitment to community engagement.
Sound processes are in place to manage budgets and performance, and the council has a business improvement programme with robust project management that should lead to savings and more effective delivery of back office services. Successful changes have already been made to reorganise children’s services.
The council is tackling some challenging service issues. Schools, though improving well, still have low levels of pupil attainment, and the benefits service is slow in processing claims and difficult to reach on the phone. There is now a need for a more fundamental review of front line services, to decide how to deliver effective, multi-agency local services, and break down departmentalism.
The council does need to tackle some barriers. Frequent changes of administration and some Councillors’ behaviour can undermine relationships with partners and is affecting relationships between officers and Councillors. Some key political structures such as overview and scrutiny and the standards committee are not working effectively.
The local strategic partnership (LSP) has been a less effective partnership forum and relationships are sometimes difficult. Recent changes to the LSP will help but the council needs a more collaborative style if it is to convince partners to work together effectively.
At a neighbourhood level, partnership working structures need review. New area committees overlay an existing community engagement structure making it difficult for local people to navigate.
The council needs to pick up the pace of change. Its business improvement programme is moving slowly and there is a need to complete and implement the human resources review more quickly. It must focus on culture change including more consistent performance management and an attitude less averse to risk.
A focus on its own services means that the council has not been punching its weight regionally and it is important that it gives more priority to influencing the regional agenda as befits a city of Leicester’s status.
An important factor in all of these improvement strands will be a higher priority and investment in an effective strategic and proactive approach to all communications