Swindon has the building blocks required to fulfil its potential and ambitions and these would be the envy of many places, according to an independent review of Swindon Borough Council.
The comments were published in a Local Government Association (LGA) corporate peer challenge report, which will be discussed by the Council’s Cabinet on Monday (20 June).
The Council regularly invites the LGA’s peer review team to visit the local authority as part of its ongoing process of continuous improvement.
Made up of senior, experienced figures from the world of local government the peer review team attended more than 40 meetings and met in excess of a hundred people during the course of their visit, including council staff, councillors and external stakeholders.
The team came to Swindon to assess the Council’s performance against five key areas including local priorities and outcomes; organisational and place leadership; governance and culture; financial planning and management; and the Council’s capacity for improvement.
The team said the Council should be proud of the way it supported local people throughout the pandemic and its successful delivery against the financial challenge to date, while also being complimentary about the staff they met across the Council at all levels.
In their report, the peer review team noted: “Our sense is that the Council and the Borough have the building blocks that are required to help the organisation to progress and to fulfil the ambitions that exist for the Borough.
“These building blocks would be the envy of many and they include the potential of, and the exciting plans for the development of the town centre and the wider economic growth of the borough; highly committed and passionate council staff and elected members; a relatively stable financial position combined with a track record of savings delivery and the source of the required savings over the medium term already having been identified; the potential of partnerships; and the confidence and learning that can be taken from the period of the pandemic.
“Things are at a key juncture in capitalising upon these, though, and this necessitates appropriate leadership responses politically and managerially.”
The report also outlined how there were a clear set of overall strategic priorities reflected within the Council Plan, which are underpinned by the Pledges that the administration have made. But there was an acknowledgement that this “forms only part of a huge amount of activity that the council is engaged in and aiming to deliver”.
In terms of areas for development, the peer team recommended that the Council review its approach to engagement and collaboration both internally and externally. They also recognised the journey that Swindon needs to take to be a more evidence and insight-led organisation and recommended that the Council steps up its approach to improving the quality and usefulness of its data.
The final area of improvement identified by the peer review was that the Council needs to review its offer to staff as it emerges from the pandemic and work with them to establish what it means to work at the Council.
As a result of the review, the Council accepted all the recommendations and developed an action plan to address the points raised and, if approved by councillors on Monday, this will be reviewed at December’s Cabinet meeting to ensure progress against the actions are on track.
Councillor David Renard, Leader of Swindon Borough Council. said: “Inviting independent review and challenge is something we embrace as an organisation and is what helps drive improvements to the services we provide to those who live and work in Swindon.
“We are always seeking to make our town better and we welcome the peer review team’s recommendations, which we will address in the action plan being presented to Cabinet. The peer review team made particular reference in their feedback about us being brave and to demonstrate what they described as a ‘Swindon swagger’ so that’s something we intend to take forward.
“If approved, we will approach the action plan with the same grip and rigour which was recognised by the peer review team during their visit, so we make the most of the excellent building blocks we have in place.”