Difficult working relationships 'showing council in poor light', report says

Shay Bottomley


Difficult working relationships between councillors are ‘still in evidence and are showing the council in a poor light to the community’, a report has found.

The Corporate Peer Challenge (CPC), first seen by the Advertiser on Thursday, concluded that the council’s motto, In Unitate Felicitas (in unity, happiness), ‘should provide a prompt for further work on political culture’ within RBWM.

The CPC is a peer review where councillors and officers from other local authorities detail what RBWM is doing well, and where it could improve.

It found that the Royal Borough had made ‘good progress on most of the recommendations’ from 2017/19 CPCs and the CIPFA review despite the impact of COVID-19.

Furthermore, it recognised chief executive Duncan Sharkey as leading ‘a positive change agenda at RBWM’ since his appointment in 2019.

The report also praised the chief executive as well as council leader Andrew Johnson for ‘driving the changes and improvements around culture’, but recognised more improvement was needed to ‘connect strategic intention with frontline practice and political culture and relationships’.

Moreover, there were observations of the borough being ‘heavily focused on local place-based agenda rather than operating as a strategic unitary authority’.

Overview and scrutiny was praised for becoming less politicised in recent years, although the CPC noted that there was still ‘room for improvement’.

On the Borough Local Plan, the CPC said: “Adoption of the Borough Local Plan has to be a significant milestone in helping to improve housing affordability across tenures and housing types which is really needed if the borough is to remain sustainable into the future.”

A number of recommendations were included in the findings, including a review of the scrutiny process and cabinet portfolios, the latter of which were deemed ‘unbalanced’.

Furthermore, it was recommended that the council develop a localism strategy with town and parish councils and community groups, as well as consider peer review of planning service for the 2023/24 municipal year. Stronger support for casework by councillors was also recommended.

The Local Government Association will now produce a ‘public feedback report’ in the week commencing Monday, February 21, with an action plan by the council expected within the following eight weeks of the report’s release.

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