EXCLUSIVE: Four councils continue to dodge corporate peer challenge

By Dan Peters | 16 May 2024

Four councils could be at risk of Government intervention as they dig in over not undergoing a corporate peer challenge (CPC).

The Local Government Association (LGA) had refused to name and shame the councils that have still not committed to a date to have a CPC – 13 years after the programme was launched.

However, the LGA has now been forced to disclose under the Freedom of Information Act the names of the remaining councils that have not yet booked in to have a CPC – Bromley and Hillingdon LBCs, Leicestershire CC and Dartford BC.

Neither Bromley nor Leicestershire are currently LGA members but all councils are now expected by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) to have a CPC every five years.

An LGA source said: ‘A huge amount of effort has gone in to get people to sign up.

'The number of councils not having a CPC has gone down as the LGA has made a concerted effort.

'Some of those councils are refuseniks but we just keep pushing.

‘I think it’s a good thing that those names are out in the public domain.

'There’s a feeling that people have to be made examples of.’

Chief executive of the Office for Local Government, Josh Goodman, has warned that councils that had repeatedly turned down a CPC could trigger the watchdog to have an ‘early warning conversation’.

Goodman has said it was a ‘clear early warning sign’ if local authorities had not had a CPC for a ‘very long time’.

Despite Goodman’s comments, Leicestershire chief executive John Sinnott has said his council does not believe the LGA’s peer challenge ‘is of any particular value. Neither is it the best use of top-sliced Government resources’.

Leicestershire leader Nick Rushton said the council ‘prefers to measure its performance and value for money against an extensive set of metrics’ and ‘believes its own approach is more open and transparent than peer review’.

Dartford claimed it was ‘committed to continuous improvement’ and that it supported the LGA’s peer review programme despite not having engaged so far.

A Dartford statement read: ‘Our choice of one method shouldn’t be interpreted as a rejection of others.

'Taken together, Dartford already benefits from a significant level of external challenge.’

Hillingdon said it would ‘review the option’ for a CPC while Bromley did not respond to a request for comment.

Chichester DC, which has yet to have booked in a CPC, claimed it had been advised by the LGA that it ‘does not have the capacity’ to undertake one until the latter part of this year but the association’s improvement team insisted there were ‘no capacity issues’.

Chairman of the LGA’s improvement and innovation board, Abi Brown, said: ‘The LGA continues to encourage all English councils to have a corporate or finance peer challenge every five years.’

Recent timeline

May 2017: LGA bats away an independent call to publish a list of councils that have not yet engaged with sector-led improvement

April 2018: The sector’s Improvement and Development Agency agrees the number of councils that have not had a CPC since 2012 will be reduced by half in 2018-19

July 2020: An independent report urges the LGA to consider what further action it could take to encourage increased participation in sector-led improvement

July 2022: The LGA says all CPCs must now be published ‘in the spirit of openness and transparency’

August 2022: DLUHC launches a survey into the LGA’s peer support to councils

May 2023: LGA admits chief executives who volunteer as peers do not have to have a CPC in their own council

August 2023: LGA again refuses to publish the list of councils that have not had a CPC but says it expects the ‘very few that haven’t yet had a CPC to do so by 2024’

March 2024: The LGA launches its ‘strengthened’ CPC to help neutralise the threat from Oflog

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Whitehall Local Government Association Legislation Chief executives Improvement FOI DLUHC Oflog