OPINION: Delivering North Devon's potential - David Worden

North Devon Gazette

One of the things that I wished to do, when the council’s administration changed after the last district elections from Conservative to Liberal Democrat/Independent led, was to have a peer review.

So, we invited the Local Government Association to send a small local government team to examine what we have been doing as a council.Â

The initial investigation took place at the end of 2019 prior to the Covid 19 pandemic and was led by Stephen Baker, chief executive of East Suffolk Council.Â

They were impressed that the council was now much more inclusive, having changed from a cabinet model to a committee system where members from all parties were more involved. However, the report identified some areas where improvements could be made but unfortunately before the report could be published and adopted formally by the council, a national lockdown was declared, and the council re-orientated to support North Devon’s communities through the Covid pandemic. Â

So, it was agreed to undertake a short ‘refresh’ exercise – providing an opportunity to revisit the recommendations contained in the original report, consider progress made against those recommendations and comment on issues for continuing improvement.Â

The CPC refresh was conducted using a mixture of virtual individual interviews and ‘in person’ group workshops, with a feedback presentation made to senior officers and members. The process focussed on three themes:Â

1. Theme 1 – Organisational Capacity and LeadershipÂ

2. Theme 2 - Strategic and Financial PlanningÂ

3. Theme 3 - Partnership WorkingÂ

Under Theme 1 the CPC team reported that there is a real sense of pride among councillors and staff concerning how the council has worked together during the pandemic to serve their community and to support one another.Â

Reviewing strategic management capacity was a key recommendation of the original CPC report. A new, gender balanced, senior management team has been successfully recruited against a set of organisational values and behaviours.Â

The conclusion was extremely positive – “We saw so many green shoots of optimism across the organisation with the majority of our original recommendations in respect of organisational leadership and capacity progressed with impressive impetus and success.”Â

The report on Theme 2 was equally encouraging. It began: “Our original report recommended that plans to deliver commercialisation and the required culture change be accelerated and, even in the challenging context of the past 18 months, it’s clear to see that the council is delivering on its commercialisation agenda.” Since the report this has been further enhanced by the purchase of the Green Lanes Shopping Centre in Barnstaple. This report went on to emphasise that the working relationship between the council leader and SMT during the pandemic has been very good, and that the leader is clearly committed to plans for change and improvement. It is always encouraging to get positive comments like this from an independent source.Â

One of our ambitions is to more fully inform residents concerning how we are making good progress as a council. The comms team have been working hard to increase our presence on social media. If you don’t normally visit our Facebook/ social media pages I would encourage you to take a look and let us know what you think. You may also consider signing up to our popular email bulletins via the website which gives you up to date information about what the council is doing.Â

In this edition I leave you with the final conclusion of the Peer Review report...Â

“Celebrate your successes! You have delivered on many of the ambitions / recommendations we noted when we were with you 18 months ago and have created a springboard for continuing to move forward – you have all the pieces in place including the trust and support of your workforce – it is now within your gift to capitalise on this opportunity, maintain focus and deliver on the potential.”Â

The full report will be considered by the council and published early in the New Year.