Improvement and assurance framework for local government

We aim to map the various elements that provide assurance of the performance of local government and to demonstrate how they all fit together. We hope that this framework will be useful both for councils and the public.

Councils are responsible for their own performance and improvement. This is recognised in the ‘sector-led improvement’ approach which is underpinned by the key principles that councils:

  • are accountable locally, not nationally
  • have a sense of collective responsibility for the performance of the local government sector.

Sector-led improvement has always played a part in providing local authorities with assurance of their own performance. Increasingly, it is contributing to the assurance of councils' performance for the wider public and central government.

We provide councils with essential tools and resources to respond to opportunities, address complex challenges and facilitate continuous improvement. We also maintain an overview of the performance of the sector.

Our data benchmarking platform – LG Inform – is freely available to all and enables any council’s performance to be compared with any other council or group of councils. Corporate peer challenge reports are all published: in the last year we have made this work more robust by requiring councils to produce action plans, with a progress review in the following 12 months. On a daily basis, sector-led support shines a light on issues such as governance, financial planning or performance, enabling councils to take early action before those issues become more serious.

Accountability of councils

There are many opportunities for councils to be held to account and these can contribute to trust in the decision-making process. Councils conduct their business in the most open and transparent way of all public authorities. Decisions are based on openly available written advice, and an overwhelming majority of decisions made in the public interest are made in open public meetings.

The structures that reinforce this accountability include:

  • free and fair elections for councillors responsible for making public decisions
  • independent external audit
  • independent regulation of service standards and practice
  • opportunities for individuals and their advocates to complain and seek remedy and redress for service and ethical failures.

All councils have internal controls, challenges and practices in place to ensure that they adhere to good governance principles. These include:

  • councillor scrutiny
  • audit and risk controls
  • the publication of annual governance statements
  • everyday actions taken by officers who have statutory roles for financial matters&
  • propriety in decision-making
  • responsibility for management arrangements.&

Additionally, councils challenge and support each other to continuously improve, supported by our improvement programmes and resources.

Councils exist to improve the quality of life of, and the quality of places for, the communities they serve. Therefore, the focus of councils’ assurance work is on the assurance they provide to local communities.

Current components of improvement and assurance

The diagram below shows the components of improvement and assurance currently in place across the local government sector:

components of improvement and assurance currently in place across the local government sector


Larger version of diagram

Full text description of diagram

Components of improvement and assurance currently in place across the local government sector

Our draft map of the improvement and assurance framework for local government includes the following components:

  • organisational control framework
  • oversight and scrutiny
  • full council
  • annual review of governance arrangements
  • audit committee
  • local code of governance and annual governance statement
  • statutory officers
  • executive / policy and resources committee
  • first, second and third lines of defence
  • other assurances
  • local elections
  • intervention
  • integrated care partnership, combined authority and additional grant funding
  • government departments and pilots
  • central guidance, codes and regulations
  • sector-led improvement (this is part of the first line of defence and informs other lines of defence).

Mapping the improvement and assurance framework for local government

Currently, there is no document or framework which sets out, in one place, the various required elements of council assurance and how they all fit together. We believe that mapping such a framework would be useful – both for councils and the public.

To undertake this mapping, we intend to convene discussions with members of the local government sector, representatives of professional associations, and others. We will also engage with the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. In these discussions, we will map the various elements which provide assurance of council performance and are used to hold the sector to account.

The aim of this work is to:

  • describe the assurance framework for councils which currently exists but is not yet written down
  • improve understanding of how the various elements of assurance work together
  • increase clarity and transparency.

Since the scope and objectives are so wide-ranging, we will mainly focus on corporate, rather than service-specific sources of assurance. The map will identify the elements which provide essential assurance in all councils: each council will additionally identify their own local objectives, for which they are accountable to their local electorate.

Once we’ve completed the system-wide mapping, there will be opportunities for stakeholders to consider whether:

  • any of the current checks and balances could be simplified, improved, or enhanced, to provide greater assurance for the sector
  • any further action is required to ensure that support and assurance for those requiring a higher level of assurance are used suitably and in the timeliest way possible.

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