New report: South Tyneside achieves 'impressive' progress

South Tyneside Council has made ‘clear,’ ‘rapid’ and ‘impressive’ progress in 2022 according to a new report.

The LGA Corporate Peer Challenge – Progress Review report highlights a number of successes at the unitary authority since its initial visit in January 2022.

These include a thorough review of the council’s approach to digital working, with plans to introduce a more modern ICT service management approach during 2023.

Key role for Organisational Development

According to the report, the council has recognised the strategic importance of organisational development and supporting the workforce. A longer-term task should be to ensure the progress made is embedded into HR policy and practice and strategic workforce plans, with reviews taking place when capacity allows.

The leadership of the council is tasked to ensure that organisational development is aligned with clear transformation objectives and is ambitious enough to drive long term change, moving beyond the challenges of the recent past. The organisation has done well to identify and develop several key individuals who have the skills and commitment to drive the work forward.

Resolving a £36m shortfall

Since January 2022 progress has been made to improve knowledge and transparency of the council’s budget processes, and there is evidently more ownership and awareness of the issues facing the local authority through a more inclusive and transparent budget planning process - but this needs to become more integrated with the Medium-Term Financial Plan, which identifies a gap of up to £36m by 2026-27.

Like many single tier councils there are no easy answers to how this gap will be addressed, and the use of reserves in a contribution to balance the annual budget is regarded as a short-term measure: "There is an urgent need to identify and agree the approach to savings, linked to the council’s approach to transformation, for 2023-24 onwards."

Performance management

Progress has been made in the council-wide approach to performance management, including new quarterly “Our Performance” reports to Cabinet, and this will be important in enabling councillors to assess progress of the new Council Strategy and how it delivers outcomes for residents. The overall approach has been boosted by additional capacity.

The council has invigorated its approach to change and has ambitious plans, and there are many new and revised strategies and new projects.

The overall approach will be aided by taking some time to clarify and define what is meant by transformation, how it relates to savings, efficiencies and outcomes for residents; and communicating the overall approach throughout the council.

This clarification should include what benefits will be realised through a cross-cutting and strategic approach, how they will be measured, prioritised and which resources will be available to ensure they are realised.

The report commended the recent investment in new capacity across several corporate functions, including the creation of a new Corporate Programme Management Office.

South Tyneside Chief Executive and Council Leader"We brought in the peer team so that we could take stock of where we were, where we wanted to be and how we would get there," explains Councillor Tracey Dixon, Leader of South Tyneside Council (pictured, front). "We have acted swiftly on recommendations and been working at pace to bring forward changes to the way we work to be more open, transparent, and better at listening and understanding our communities."

The Council has undergone a significant period of change over the last year, changing how it works to deliver on the borough’s ambitions.

"Despite the challenges of the last 11 months, we have been relentless in our pursuit of change," said Jonathan Tew, Chief Executive at South Tyneside Council (pictured, rear). "The Peer team had no new recommendations, which again, is incredible. They said we are doing ‘all the right things’ and that we need to keep going."  

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