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LGA Corporate Peer Challenge - progress review (3 Nov 2023)

Progress review - feedback

Peers were warmly welcomed back to Great Yarmouth Borough Council (GYBC) on 2 November 2023, almost a year since the Corporate Peer Challenge (CPC) between 29 November - 2 December 2022. During this time the council have experienced local elections which saw the Conservative administration lose their majority and resulted in a no overall control position (Conservatives 19, Labour 18, and Independents 2.) The Conservatives under the leadership of the previous leader, took control with a minority administration. A change in governance from Committee to Cabinet with an opposition led Scrutiny Committee was also implemented and six months in, peers heard this is bedding in well.

The CPC action plan details positive progress against all eight of the recommendations, with continuing actions to be delivered. The priority of the council since May 2023 has been to address its financial challenges, and the peer team acknowledge that this was an appropriate and necessary piece of work to prioritise.

A budget gap of £3.2m is forecast for 2025/6 with savings proposals of circa £1.5m identified so far. Cross member discussions are taking place and officers have confidence they will have a package of measures identified totalling around £2m to put before Council.

The council has also reprofiled its Town Deal (TD), Future High Street Fund (FHSF) and Levelling Up Fund (LUF) projects due to inflationary pressures, ensuring deliverability of priority projects. If funds become available in the future, projects that have been paused can be quickly revitalised and taken forward. All projects are currently on budget and being monitored closely.

Communications and Narrative

A video highlighting the main projects and generating images of what Great Yarmouth will look like in five to ten years is currently in production. Similar to that produced for the Town Deal but aimed at a local audience, this is an exciting opportunity to produce high quality media that can be deployed multiple times to promote different messages across multiple media channels.

GYBC actively sends out press releases and has a good presence across social media. Peers felt there was further progress the council could make to be clearer about its messaging. For example, by focussing more on the local impact anticipated from projects rather than focussing on the milestones of their delivery.

The council has strengthened its officer and political oversight and reporting of projects, particularly those relating to FHSF, TD, and LUF. Communication strategies accompany all projects but only cover the period up until the building stops. In order to bring attention to the positive outcomes they deliver over varying timescales post completion, peers encourage the council to extend the communication plans highlighting the medium- and long-term community and town benefits.

Content is being produced for a new website "futuregreatyarmouth" which will provide another digital platform for the council to promote the work it is doing with partners and stakeholders and improve prospects of attracting further inward investment.

Peers heard from staff that internal communication is very positive and well received. The in-person staff conferences are welcomed and the inclusion of a "you said we did" element this year demonstrated the council had listened to feedback from previous conferences. However, there was still a feeling the council's website could be improved with easier navigation and would benefit from a review.

The well-established Staff Engagement Group (SEG) is a positive resource within the council that can be engaged with to consult with staff and develop policies. The group has lost some momentum post-covid and would benefit from a refresh of its purpose. Peers felt that through SEG and internal communications there is an opportunity to keep staff motivated by reminding them what is being achieved.

Capacity and Skills

A new People Strategy was approved earlier this year along with an action plan addressing many of the suggestions made by peers as part of the CPC. A new HR system will soon provide the data needed to support targeting of recruitment and retention actions as well as provide managers with real time management information to support them better in their roles.

Some good appointments have been made since the peers last visited with a new executive director for place and graduate positions in planning. A number of apprentices are also working at different levels across the organisation, but there are still opportunities to increase the number of apprentices through available levy funding. Peers heard there is an issue with the council knowing which opportunities to promote versus what officers are interested in. It is hoped the new HR system will be able to analyse the learning and development data from annual appraisals to better target opportunities.

Positive steps are being taken with empowering heads of service. They now meet in person as a management team and have more strategic and impactful conversations. They have stepped up to take responsibility of recent emergency events including an unexploded bomb and cliff erosion a Hembsy. Leadership of some cross service projects including agile working, accommodation review and GYN is also in place. There is a desire from staff for this to go further but it is being restricted by organisational capacity.

It was clear people enjoy working for GYBC and support the council's ambition, however stretched they may feel. Capacity is a national issue but particularly for a small coastal borough. Peers felt there was more the council could do to develop its unique selling points and promote the council, the benefits and opportunities for staff and the difference that can be made for residents.


Key performance statistics have significantly improved since the CPC. The time taken to process housing benefit new claims and change events has gone from 16 days to 3 days. Sickness absence is on a downward trend from its start position of 13 days and the council recognises there is still work to do to reduce this further.

The Scrutiny Committee is monitoring performance of both the major projects and core services. This challenge will help to keep the council focussed and the committee has an important role in holding the administration to account over how it uses the data to drive improvement and put in place mitigation/recovery plans for areas of underperformance.

It is a strength that the council has recognised the outsourcing of some services have not performed as predicted and has taken action to bring these back in house to deliver a better-quality service. Over time, peers hope efficient management of these will also save the council money.

Identifying a solution to the issues GYBC faced with procurement has been difficult. After a number of conversations with potential partners and soft market testing, the council has opted to join forces with East Suffolk Council. This proposal will provide a resource to sit within the council but with added resilience of a wider pool of expertise as part of the contract. It is understandable that the council has some reservations about another outsourced procurement service, however peers felt there was reason to be optimistic. If the new contract is tightly scrutinised to ensure GYBC gets the anticipated service level and outcomes and learns lessons from past experience, there is an opportunity for the post to drive efficiency from sweating the contracts register for more savings in the future.


Following the elections in May, members agreed to continue with the current Corporate Plan which expires in 2025 and is congruent with the Business and Finance Strategies.

Budget preparation for 2024/2025 is well advanced and peers applaud the early cross-party engagement. The budget is predicated on some use of reserves and up to £2.5m of savings. Delivering the 2024/2025 budget and the rest of the Medium-Term Financial Strategy (MTFS) is going to require members to make tough decisions and see them through to completion. Peers did not pass comment on these, they just emphasised the need for political will to make the hard decisions for now, next year and the year after.

Once the budget is agreed, officers will need to be fully focused on ensuring the savings that have been agreed are delivered. There are already some current year savings that are slipping and next year will be tougher. This presents a good opportunity for the new Scrutiny Committee to monitor the delivery of savings.

The council plans to make innovative use of additional LUF to balance the revenue tails and bolster existing projects rather than starting new ones. In the event government fail to sign off on this, the council will need an alternative financial plan.

Peers welcome the focus on digital transformation. Inevitably this presents an opportunity for process redesign and procurement of back-office systems (spend to save) which could facilitate staff savings. The peers suggest that steps are taken now to plan for the management of such a change programme, for example by developing proposals for voluntary exit.

Political Culture

Although there was a political difference in opinion about moving back to the Cabinet system, both sides of the chamber have made this work. Cabinet members have found their feet, quickly settling into portfolio holder roles which were loosely based on their previous committee responsibilities. The Scrutiny Committee is being chaired by the opposition which is good practice and is using the Cabinet Forward Plan to identify their work plan. Meetings have so far been challenging yet respectful and well chaired. There are opportunities for pre-scrutiny and for more members to be involved in subject specific task and finish groups.

The constitution has been reviewed to reflect the governance change. This has resulted in a better understanding of its contents due to the consultation and engagement with members throughout modification. Additionally, the new member induction and subsequent training and development programme was thorough and provided an excellent resource for all members.

The constructive political culture peers observed last year still exists and has not been adversely impacted by the change in governance. It is refreshing to witness and should be sustained. The behaviours and levels of respect for different views sets an excellent example to others.

Peers encourage the council to continue developing political relationships with an awareness to broadening them and preparing effectively for succession planning to ensure sustainability.

Last modified on 10 January 2024

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