Rising to the challenge: lessons of sector-led improvement in local government

Sector-led improvement (SLI) is a distinctive approach to improvement put in place by local authorities and the Local Government Association (LGA). Corporate peer challenge is the jewel in the crown of the LGA’s SLI offer, other components of which include more targeted peer challenges and bespoke support for individual councils, particularly those in difficult circumstances including possible government intervention.

The LGA commissioned Shared Intelligence (Si) to collect and curate stories of the experience and impact of sector-led improvement in the words of the leaders and chief executives concerned. The aim of the research was to: collect and disseminate learning from the process across the sector, encourage councils which have not yet participated to do so, and to demonstrate the robustness and impact of the process.

The report, Rising to the challenge: lessons of sector-led improvement in local government, draws on interviews with the leaders and chief executives in 19 councils. One thing that stands out from the interviews is that for most leaders and chief executives, corporate peer challenge feels robust and rigorous and the experience is truly challenging.

There is no doubt that peer challenges have an impact: things happen as a result of them. Some impacts are obvious: councils without a vison for their place working to develop one; councils adopting a more commercial approach; transformation programmes being re-booted. Other impacts are less tangible: councils becoming more outwardly focussed; councils which are frequently in no overall control being supported to work through the complexity.

One overarching reflection on the interviews is that the attributes of SLI and corporate peer challenge mirror many of the attributes of an effective council. Words and phrases such as reflection, a learning culture, an appetite for constructive challenge, open, transparent and accessible are used to describe both.

The full report is available here.

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