"Ambitious" council publishes peer report
Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council (WHBC) has been told that it is a "partner of choice", "in a strong financial position", with "ambitious plans" for the future and "a committed workforce".
The comments came in the council's Local Government Association (LGA) Corporate Peer Challenge report, published today (Thursday 14 March).
As part of the LGA-supported review, a team of senior officers and a councillor from other local authorities spoke to more than 125 people including staff, councillors, external partners and others in the borough; gathered information and views from more than 45 meetings and site visits; and collectively spent more than 233 hours to determine their findings - the equivalent of one person spending more than 6 weeks at the council.
Key findings from the report include:
- The peer team heard from staff, members and partners how passionate and respected the new Chief Executive and Leader are, along with the former Leader Mandy Perkins, and how they have led the change and focused the ambition whilst continuing to deliver good services.
- The council is a partner of choice, well respected and trusted by partners, who spoke of the improved positive relationships built by the new leadership team - and in particular by the Chief Executive - in his discussions with the LEP, University of Hertfordshire, Business Forum, businesses and public sector partners.
- The council is in a strong financial position - regularly delivering a balanced budget with high levels of reserves, minimal borrowing or reliance on reserves, and has managed to protect frontline services.
- There is a motivated, dedicated and enthusiastic workforce who are focused on delivering the best services to their communities.
- The council has ambitious plans for the regeneration of both Welwyn Garden City and Hatfield town centres, and has been successful in drawing in external funding including over £16m from Homes England and the LEP.
- There is a comprehensive approach to communications using many different channels - this includes a shift to digital communication which has begun with some positive examples.
In conclusion, the report states that "WHBC benefits from a committed willing workforce and engaged passionate members. Now is the time to take opportunities to modernise, embrace change, shape your place and be fit for the future."
Cllr Tony Kingsbury, the Leader of the council, said:
Some really positive comments have come out of this piece of work and overall we are very pleased. The LGA Peer Challenge is without doubt the most thorough test there is of how a council is working on behalf of its communities, and we have opened ourselves up to an intense degree of scrutiny by our peers. I am hugely grateful to them all for their time, and to the LGA for coordinating this.
The report recognised that there were challenges to delivering growth and housing in an area so close to London. It also made some recommendations for the council as it makes further progress.
One of these is for the council to develop, with its communities and partners, a clear "place narrative" for Welwyn Hatfield, linked to the long term vision, which sets out how the borough will look and feel in the longer term, and how the council will contribute to that.
Other recommendations include developing a modernisation programme which plans for how the council will ensure it is fit for purpose in the years ahead, and how it can embrace further external challenge and expertise as it does that.
Rob Bridge, chief executive of the council, said:
I am passionate about being open and honest about our strengths and weaknesses, and this report has highlighted many things that we are doing well - not least our workforce who are committed to providing excellent services to people who live or work in Welwyn Hatfield.
It also gives us some ideas about how we can continue to make the progress we need in order to become a modern, forward thinking council, delivering for our communities' future.