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City council gets positive review from influential local government peers

Published on Tuesday, 28th February 2023

The city council and Local Government Association (LGA) have published a high-profile report which reveals positive findings of a recent independent peer review of the council.

The report concluded that ‘the city council is on a positive journey of change and is focused on achievement and delivery, with fantastically committed people including staff, members and partners’.

The review – which took place in January – was conducted by an experienced team of influential senior local government peers led by Cllr Darren Rodwell, Leader of the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham, and Michael Bracey, CEO of Milton Keynes City Council.  The team met over 100 people including councillors, staff, and partners and consulted a wide range of background material in reaching their findings.

The review finds that the council’s relationships with statutory partners are ‘strong and effective’ and that ‘the council is widely regarded in a positive light across the region and country’ with partners very upbeat about their engagement with the council – some describing their experience as ‘exemplary and constructive’.

The review comments that ‘the senior management team and statutory partners have a strong connection with the 2040 vision and understand its strategic objectives’.

In relation to the council’s financial position and wider approach to governance, the review finds that the council has invested well in improving governance and assurance processes and comments that ‘the council is in a relatively strong financial position, with stronger financial metrics than many of its peers’. The review also notes that the council ‘is proud to have protected council services’.

The review points to a ‘robust governance framework for managing change and financial savings projects’ which is seen as positive, given the new approach has delivered detailed change proposals, whilst enabling increased cross-service challenge, with staff supporting each other throughout the process.  

The approach shows ‘a strong link back to corporate priorities and city-wide benefits’ which, according to the report, ‘demonstrates the council’s ability to challenge and learn whilst improving corporate governance and assurance’.

The review comments that ‘senior political leadership is widely respected by members and officers and that respect for political leadership extends across all political parties’, which is cited by peers as being a very positive attribute of organisational culture.  Peers identified cross-party working as a clear strength and that relationships between members and officers were seen as ‘positive and constructive’.

In relation to organisational change, the review comments that ‘the chief executive rightly identified the need to focus on the values and behaviours of the organisation, and has been leading a two-way, inclusive process with colleagues to explore this, which has been well received and has good prospects for supporting the organisation to develop’.

Peers also make recommendations for further development in certain areas including community engagement, delivery of the Norwich 2040 City Vision, and continuing work to develop the council’s organisational culture. The review sets out seven key recommendations for further development, including:

  • Accelerating and prioritising plans to strengthen community and tenant engagement to deliver on the stated commitment to put residents at the ‘heart of everything we do’.
  • Strengthening place leadership by involving partners more formally in the delivery of the local 2040 vision and clearly identifying officers to be the strategic leads for key partnerships.
  • Shifting focus and transformation resource to culture change – building on the work already started.
  •  Identifying further growth and invest to save opportunities needed to meet corporate priorities as part of 2024-25 budget planning.

Cllr Alan Waters, leader of the council, said: “I’m delighted the team of influential local government peers has recognised the positive position the council is in. The review finds that our relationship with statutory partners is strong, with a clear shared vision, and that our financial position is being well managed, despite the significant challenges.  

“We welcome and accept the recommendations of the review. We know there is much work to do and the review will provide a positive platform upon which the new political and officer leadership can build.  

“There are challenges ahead for the council and the city but there are also big opportunities. The peer review gives us confidence that we are in a strong position to meet those challenges and realise those opportunities”.

Stephen Evans, chief executive, added: “The positive outcome of the peer review is testament to all the hard work that councillors, colleagues and partners have put in over the past few years.  

“The review provides some excellent feedback on our work, along with areas for further development. The council is improving across a range of areas and I’m sure the new political leadership and whoever takes over from me will continue to drive progress – but everyone will need to play their part.  

“The peer team make reference to our fantastically committed councillors, staff and partners – I very much agree with them”.

Read the full report here. Its findings and next steps will be discussed at the next meeting of cabinet on Wednesday 8 March.

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