At the last meeting of the borough council Executive, it was agreed to proceed with a ‘Peer Challenge’. Briefly, this is an informal ‘review’ by staff from other councils. The review “includes a focus on leadership, governance, corporate capacity and financial resilience”.. The review results in a written report.
Of course, the Eye fully supports the idea, though we have two niggling thoughts. Will a group of peers put any serious criticisms, particularly of management, in writing without first ‘toning them down’? Secondly, the ‘terms of reference’ of the previous review – seven years ago – seem to have been influenced by the Chief Executive. But, as any magician knows, to trick an audience, you encourage it to look in one direction while the real deceipt is carried out elsewhere. Hmm. That doesn’t seem good on principle.
But what matters to the Eye is whether the previous report had any direct visible consequences for Camberley. In particular, this lengthy extract: “The priority [goal] of Camberley town centre regeneration is a huge project, which carries a high level of risk. It will need a great deal of advance preparatory work to structure a financial package that the Council can commit to and provide partners with the evidence to ensure they have confidence that the regeneration scheme is viable and will proceed. It will be important to evidence what options are available to the Council, and what risks have been assessed, if the proposed development falters and/or retail partners pull out. For example, the principal focus to date is of an anchor store underpinning the development. However, discussions with this store have been ongoing for six years and a positive response is still awaited. The timescales for implementation are also ambitious bearing in mind the number of significant interdependencies, which reinforces the point made earlier about improved arrangements for project/programme management.”
It’s not too difficult to read between the lines of that extract. Sadly, we suspect that few residents – looking at the London Road Block in particular – would regard the regeneration project as having been a success.
A lesser matter. Quote: “Once the operation of the Theatre is made more efficient, that is subsidy is reduced, options could be developed to consider transfer of ownership/operation.” We assume that ‘options could be developed’ actually means ‘sell’. Which hasn’t happened?
So, we wonder whether the previous Challenge resulted in an action plan to pursue its recommendations. If not, shouldn’t it have? More importantly, will the next Challenge do so? And will it be made public?
A final word. For many years, the Eye has criticised the council’s public documents. Less than three months ago, commenting on the draft Local Plan, we wrote: “the waffle and unsuitability of the document for a public consultation. We reckon, subjectively, that it could have been reduced by a third, and made clearer at the same time”
It seems clear that the last Challenge also thought the council should do better: “it would advantageous to set out…. a template for report writing, with guidance on length and format.” We wouldn’t mind betting that this hasn’t been done.