Leading sector bodies working together to provide practical advice to councils to assist in the strengthening of local governance

Posted on 03/10/2019 by Ed Hammond.

A range of national bodies are working together to enhance councils’ understanding of how they can diagnose and reduce the risk of failure in corporate governance, and what success factors can point the way to greater strength in this area.

Research is being led by the Centre for Governance and Scrutiny and Localis, and funded by a consortium of partners – the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, the Local Government Association, the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, Local Partnerships and the law firm Trowers & Hamlins LLP.

Good governance is important in ensuring good decision making and leadership in local authorities.  Weakness in governance can have far reaching implications for individual councils and the people they serve.  It is therefore important for councils to have a way to work through what good governance looks like for them, how the risk of weak governance can be minimised and the attitudes and behaviours that underpin this. In extreme cases, governance failure can lead to informal and formal oversight being imposed by central Government. The research will engage closely with these instances because of the wealth of evidence that exists about governance failure – and subsequent improvement – in those cases. But it will not provide a forensic study of individual interventions, instead drawing out common themes and lessons which can be analysed to provide practical support to councils. .

The Centre for Governance and Scrutiny and Localis came together in 2018 to produce a discussion paper on this topic entitled “Decline and fall”. On the basis of that research, they are focusing in more depth on specific governance issues in order to:

  • Better understand what evidence can be found that could signpost to the risk of governance failure, and help councils to mitigate those risks by strengthening governance systems. Researchers will look in depth at six case study councils to identify early indications of the risk of governance failure before that failure became evident, and will take a wider view of councils’ experiences in develop strong and effective models of governance. Together, this evidence will contribute to practical tools for councils to deploy to take local action on governance. In respect of the case studies, researchers will interview leading councillors, officers, partners and members of the community as well as others directly involved with interventions. They will also review paperwork and other written material, and review how councils at risk of failure were reported in the local media in the runup to that failure becoming evident, where applicable;
  • Provide practical advice to councils as to how they can recognise and act on the risk in their own area. Researchers will consider whether it is possible to put in place tools to assist local leaders, decision-makers and scrutineers to better understand how governance risk can present itself, and how it can be arrested. Researchers will consider whether it is possible to come up with a consistent “typology” of local failure, and how this can be deployed at local level to improve. The research proceeds on the assumption, backed by previously-gathered evidence, that local action to manage and arrest risk, led and managed by the sector itself, will be the most effective; the purpose will be to develop practical tools that meet the need of those at a local level.

Although the research will focus on six case studies (which will be identified in due course) researchers are keen to learn the views of the wider sector on the issue. While researchers issuing a call for submissions or evidence as such, there is an enthusiasm to hear the views of those with an interest in the subject.

The research is being led by Ed Hammond, Director of Research at the Centre for Governance and Scrutiny. Findings alongside a practical toolkit for councils will be published in mid-May 2020.

If you want to find out more about the work or wish to share your thoughts please e-mail ed.hammond@cfgs.org.uk or call 020 3866 5109.

About the Author: Ed Hammond

Ed leads CfGS's work on devolution, transformation and on support to councils and other public bodies on governance and accountability.