To consider the report of the Leader of the Council sharing the report and recommendations resulting from the Corporate Peer Challenge (CPC) undertaken in November 2022, and outlining the Council’s response in the form of an Action Plan.
133.1 Councillor Norman introduced the report sharing the recommendations resulting from the Corporate Peer Challenge which took place in November 2022, and the Council’s resulting Action Plan. She outlined the themes considered by the peer team during their review which were set out at 3.5 of the report. She advised the Committee that the City Council had also asked the peer team to provide feedback on how the council responded to the cyber incident, and whether work undertaken by the council to tackle inequalities was improving outcomes for residents.
133.2 Councillor Norman highlighted the findings of the peer team at Appendix 1, noting that they had identified the commitment and talent of City Council Officers as a key strength, as well as the City Council’s track record of strengths-based community development work and relationship with voluntary and community groups in Gloucester. She also referred to comments at 4.2 in the full Corporate Peer Challenge report recognising the council’s commitment to culture and the Commission to Review Race Relations. Councillor Norman confirmed that that the peer review team had highlighted some challenges and the Action Plan included at Appendix 2 set out the proposed response to address those challenges.
133.3 The Chair commented that the Corporate Peer Challenge report was an interesting one and referred to the narrative at 4.3 in the full report stating that the Overview and Scrutiny Committee should consider an annual work programming session. Councillor Norman confirmed that the Cabinet would very much welcome input from the Overview and Scrutiny Committee in this way. She reflected on her previous experience of sitting on the Overview and Scrutiny Committee and recognised that Members might welcome the opportunity to drive policy rather than solely reacting to the Forward Plan.
133.4 In response to a query from the Chair regarding the proposed annual work programming session, the Managing Director noted that Officers from the Local Government Association (LGA) had offered to work with the Overview and Scrutiny Committee Group Leads, with potential opportunities for the Leads to observe how Members undertake policy development roles in neighbouring authorities. He further confirmed that Officers would be very willing to facilitate an annual meeting to develop a long-term Work Programme. It was noted that the Overview and Scrutiny Committee supported this unanimously.
133.5 Councillor Wilson referred to the narrative in the full Corporate Peer Challenge report at 4.4 and the statements that ‘consideration should be given as to whether resources in the Finance Team were sufficient to deliver the Quarter 3 and Quarter 4 budget monitoring reports’ and that ‘additional capacity’ may be needed. He asked for further information as to what had caused the peer review team to reach this conclusion. Councillor Norman explained that the Corporate Peer Challenge had taken place in November 2022, during a period where the cyber incident was having an ongoing impact on the finance system and the ability of the team to produce the routine Financial Monitoring reports. It was her belief that the comments around delivery of reports were a reflection of the time. Councillor Norman further noted that the former Director of Policy of Resources had decided to focus on supporting individual members of the Finance Team rather than recruitment.
133.6 In response to a follow-up question from Councillor Wilson as to whether the Finance team were moving away from manual transactions and now up to date with their work, Councillor Noman confirmed her understanding that the team had mostly recovered from the cyber incident and that when the new Head of Finance and Resources had been recruited, it would be down to them to determine whether additional resources were needed.
133.7 In response to a query from the Chair concerning the challenges identified around Member/Officer relations and Member conduct, the Managing Director referred to the Action Plan outlining the proposed steps to address the recommendation. He confirmed that a permanent Monitoring Officer had been recruited, and that the Corporate Governance Group would be working on a robust induction plan for the new cohort of Councillors following the 2024 Local Elections. He further confirmed that the City Council’s Monitoring Officer was in the process of reviewing the Member Code of Conduct and Member/Officer Protocol which would be brought before the General Purposes Committee in due course. Councillor Norman added that as Chair of the Member Development Working Group, she was considering the possibility of assigning political buddies to new Councillors as well as an Officer buddy to complement their induction.
133.8 Councillor Hilton referred to the statement at 4.5 in the full report that the ‘peer team found GCC’s organisational leadership and management to be at the limits of their current capacity’. He raised concerns that Officers tended to take longer to progress Member referrals than when he was initially elected as a Councillor, noting that this was a reflection of capacity issues rather than Officers’ skills.
133.9 The Managing Director noted that political Group Leaders had been briefed but explained for the benefit of the Committee that proposals had been developed for a staffing restructure, which had been amended following feedback from staff. He noted that in consultation with the City Council Cabinet, this restructure proposed to expand the Senior Management Team with the creation of a Head of Finance and Resources post and a Head of Transformation and Commissioning post. The Managing Director explained that it was hoped that these changes would bring about more organisational efficiency, capacity, and would ultimately improve the customer journey. Councillor Norman noted that the financial climate of local Government had changed with particular challenges for second tier authorities in recent years. She expressed that priority needed to be given to managing resources to meet the needs of the city as a whole rather than focusing on single wards.
133.10 In response to a query from Councillor Hilton regarding 8.2 in the report and the ‘check-in’ meeting in 6 months’ time, the Managing Director clarified that the meeting would take place 6 months following the publication of the Action Plan, and would likely be during the autumn.
133.11 In response to a question from Councillor Gravells regarding the City Council’s Here to Help facility, the Managing Director confirmed that in his view, the current Here to Help provision did not totally satisfy all customer enquiries and that he believed there were ways to make the service more user-friendly.
133.12 Councillor Gravells referred to the previous meeting of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee where Members received an overview of the Here to Help Facility. He noted that this was an example of showing how the work of Councillor scrutiny could add value to City Council processes. The Managing Director confirmed that Member communication would be taken into account during any review of the customer journey.
133.13 A discussion ensued around the role the Overview and Scrutiny Committee could play in developing City Council policy. It was suggested that the Committee consider commissioning a Task and Finish Group to work alongside the new Head of Transformation once they were recruited to develop Here to Help and the customer experience. Councillor Gravells noted that he would be interested in taking part in such a Task and Finish Group.
133.14 Councillor Norman thanked all Officers and Members who took part in the Corporate Peer Review, and paid tribute to the Senior Management and Corporate Support teams for their hard work in facilitating the peer review interviews. She also thanked partner organisations and community groups who had contributed to the review.
RESOLVED – That the Overview and Scrutiny Committee NOTE the report.