Test of assurance offer – to review senior management structures

A framework for providing support to chief executives or executive directors of local authorities to review senior management arrangements for managing children’s services and adult social services. It can also be applied to include other areas of work, for example, public health, but if this is the case then further expertise would be required.

Criteria for a review

There are several possible reasons why a chief executive or executive director might consider that this is an appropriate mechanism to review senior management and leadership arrangements. These criteria could include:

  • changes in senior management structure, for example, new directors, new chief executive, split functions such as commissioning placed in an alternative directorate to statutory chief officer
  • changes in council leadership, for example, new political administration or new portfolio holder/s
  • concerns with financial or performance management at a strategic level.


Statutory guidance requires local authorities to test the extent to which the organisational structures fulfil key criteria such as meeting statutory responsibilities, transparency of accountabilities and responsibilities, and support effective inter-agency and partnership working.

The LGA offer is an independent review of these arrangements at any point in a restructuring process or review of changes. The way in which this is undertaken would be consistent with a sector led improvement approach to offer critical friend challenge and advice in the form of recommendations.


The approach has been tested with a number of local authorities. It will be completed by experienced professionals with appropriate expertise, for example:

  • an experienced ex-director of children's services (DCS); can be LGA Children’s Improvement Adviser (CIA)
  • an experienced ex-director of adult social services (DASS); LGA Care and Health Improvement Adviser (CHIA) or LGA Contractor who has been a DASS
  • if the test is looking at an alternative combination of functions, appropriate expertise will be added.

This work is aimed at assisting local authorities to understand the impact and risks of changing senior management arrangements, particularly the capacity to provide effective leadership. It also provides an independent professional view of the translation of statutory duties through the local leadership and management arrangements. This work is conducted in a similar way to other activity in Sector Led Improvement, i.e. as a critical friend offering expert advice and support. The children's improvement adviser (CIA) and CHIA can also signpost to further potential support as part of sector led improvement programmes within the LGA.

This work does not substitute for inspection, audit, peer review or other in depth examinations of service effectiveness. Its focus is specifically on leadership and management arrangements. However in order to understand the leadership and management capacity issues, the main challenges and opportunities that the services face need to be explored. It could be used in conjunction with other interventions such as peer review to either follow on from, or inform, those interventions.


Stage 1: Scoping

A discussion with the chief executive/corporate director/ strategic director/ executive director to agree themes, scope the programme and identify key documents (for example, self-assessment, inspection reports, structure charts, performance reports, up-to-date children’s services improvement plan, Adult Social Care Risk Tool self- assessment, most recent budget reports, strategic plans). A record of the outcome of the meeting is provided following this meeting.

Stage 2: Preparation and programming

You can read a sample schedule of information and meetings adopted in a previous test of assurance: below, in appendix 2

The local authority arranges an interview schedule, prepares and provides documents, undertakes self-assessment if not already completed. Information is provided to the LGA leads at least a week before the fieldwork visit.

CIA and CHIA to review and discuss information to develop hypotheses for testing in the fieldwork visit.

Stage 3: Field work

Two days of fieldwork where both the CHIA and CIA (or LGA contracted professional leads for the work) undertake interviews. The purpose of the interviews is to understand the effectiveness of leadership and governance arrangements, and the understanding of and impact on other managers, Members (and partners if agreed, e.g. chairs of Safeguarding Adults and Children’s Boards). At the end of the two days the CHIA and CIA (or LGA contracted professionals) provide an outline powerpoint presentation (or equivalent) of headlines from findings

Stage 4: Report

CIA and CHIA (or LGA contracted professionals) write the report (usually in the form of a letter to the chief executive/ executive director) summarising reflections and recommendations for future work.

Appendix 2 –  a sample of the schedule of issues to use in test of assurance

Domain/areas to consider

Leadership and governance 

  • Political change
  • Experience of political and managerial leaders
  • Professional capability in DCS/ DASS structures
  • Priority given by council to adult social care (ASC) / children and young people (CYP) 
  • Stress testing management capability to manage serious risk situations
  • Responding to corporate challenges
  • Relationships with system partners, sustainable transformation partnerships (STPs) / integrated care systems (ICSs) and transformation

Performance and practice outcomes

  • Risk management
  • Safeguarding/ Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards (DOLS)
  • Pressures and quality of front line practice
  • Key Performance Outcomes
  • Customer satisfaction

Commissioning and quality

  • Quality issues
  • Market shaping

National  priorities and partnerships

  • Health and wellbeing partnership
  • Prevention and personalisation
  • Better Care Fund Implementation
  • Special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) reforms
  • School improvement strategy
  • Transforming Care
  • Other national priorities

Resource and workforce: management 

  • Percentage of corporate spend on children’s and adult services 
  • Medium term and in year budget position 
  • Demand pressures/changes in activity
  • Future outlook
  • Staff vacancy levels
  • Recruitment and retention across sector

Culture and change

  • Culture of transformation through front line managers and staff 
  • Culture of engagement with engagement with children, young people, families and adult customers
  • Participation in core sector-led improvement (SLI) activity/ peer review and external scrutiny
  • Local transformation programme and performance management arrangements
  • Organisational development  

Leadership and governance 

  • Do political leadership arrangements for children’s  and adult services meet statutory requirements?
  • Does position of DCS/ DASS in the organisation/ structure enable them to meet statutory duties?
  • Is the council assured that there is capacity and capability to manage day to day operations/ decisions at times of when there is an adverse event requiring director attention. For example, Poor Ofsted report/major safeguarding issue
  • Is there transparency about responsibilities and accountability?
  • Is there a clear strategic direction, including a vision and ambition for innovation by combining roles? 
  • Do structures and organisational arrangements support effective inter agency and partnership working? 
  • What leadership is being given to strong relationships with NHS system partners, including the STP/ICS and system wide transformation?

Performance and practice outcomes

  • What is the council’s approach to understanding risk and mitigation of risk? 
  • What is the council’s process for assurance on safeguarding arrangements for children’s and adult services? 
  • What progress is being made on Liberty Safeguards assessments?
  • How does the DCS/DASS assure themselves about waiting times for assessment and quality of support plans in front line practice?
  • What is the grip on key performance measures in children’s and adult services: as corporate parents for children looked after, access to provision for disabled children and with SEN, alternative provision for children outside mainstream education, coherent planning on Youth Justice system, prevention and early intervention; DTOC, use of resources data and ASCOF, Transforming Care
  • How are Members, People Director sighted on complaints, experience of customers and families and building this into the forward plan?

Commissioning and quality

  • How can Members, DASS & DCS evidence oversight of market challenges and quality issues and effective plans to tackle these?
  • How effectively do children’s and adults services commission for transition placements to make best use of council resources?  
  • How is effectiveness of any joint commissioning arrangements or plans for integrated commissioning with the NHS considered? 
  • How does the council foster relationships with providers?
  •  Is there a clear plan to drive quality improvement and transformational change through service provision? 
  • Is there an evidenced approach to establishing fair fees

National  priorities and partnerships

  • How do members, DASS/DCS assure themselves of progress on key priorities and partnerships?
  • Is the vision and action plans for priority areas clear?
  • Is the council driving the national agenda for both children and adult services towards  prevention and personalisation?

Resource and workforce management

  • How is the council assured that the budget and savings plans are proportionate for children’s and adult services?
  • How is the council assured about the use of resources/ effectiveness of council spend for children’s and adults? 
  • Is there evidence of finance, performance and operation teams grip on budget management for children’s and adults?
  • Is there a governance process to provide assurance to DCS/DASS and members on  in year and medium term budget delivery? 
  • Is there evidence of grip on workforce planning, recruitment and retention of staff for children’s and adults services? 

Culture and change

  • What is the leadership and culture in the combined directorate 
  • How does the council engage with team managers to drive transformation and performance changes? 
  • How are children, young people, families and customers engaged/ empowered in council delivery plans? 
  • Have staff been engaged and do they own the council’s direction of travel for children’s and adult services?
  • How does the council engage in Sector led improvement exercises regionally and/or nationally
  • Does the council invest in transformation: programme staff, resources, organisational change and performance management functions to drive change?

Leadership and governance 

  • Chief Executive 
  • Director of People (and/or DCS/DASS if combined in a different way)
  • Director of Finance 
  • Portfolio Holder Adults
  • Portfolio Holder Children
  • Head of Legal Services
  • Scrutiny Chairs 

Performance and practice outcomes

  • Head of Safeguarding
  • Service Director 
  • Focus groups (1) Team Managers (2) Practitioners 

Commissioning and quality

  • Assistant Director (AD)
  • Commissioning/Contracts manager  
  • Children and Adults lead managers 

National priorities and partnerships

  • Head of Learning Disability (LD) services 
  • Director of People/AD/operational staff – health and social care interface 

Resource and workforce management 

  • Chief Executive 
  • Director of People
  • Director of Finance 
  • Portfolio Holder Adults
  • Portfolio Holder Children

Culture and change

  • Director of People/ ADs
  • Focus groups (1) Team Managers (2) Practitioners
  • Interviewer(s)
  • Date and time

Reports/Reading: Note that this is not exclusive and can be adjusted for each test in consultation about the areas of focus

  • Council wide
  • Health and wellbeing (HWB) strategy
  • JSNA – evidence about voice about children, young people, families, carers and adult citizens
  • Multi agency partnership documents: Better Care Fund, Youth Justice,
  • Community Safety Partnership, The Multi-Agency Tasking and Coordination (MATAC), Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA), Multi Agency Risk Assessment Conference (MARAC)
  • Peer review reports – LGA peer reviews, regional SLI reviews
  • Local authority self- assessments for children’s and adult services
  • Staff annual health check
  • Workforce overview report and strategies– caseloads, vacancy rates, use of agency staff, staff absence rates, relevant HR and recruitment strategy reports
  • Medium term and in year budget information
  • Risk register
  • Adult services documents 
  • Adult services vision/ strategy documents
  • Local Account 
  • Market position statement
  • Safeguarding Board Annual report
  • Housing strategies
  • Use of resources report for adults
  • Children’s services
  • Children and Young People’s plan (s)
  • Current and previous Ofsted, Joint Targeted Area Inspections (JTAI) / SEND/ Youth Justice Board (YJB) children’s homes and education inspection reports
  • Children’s Safeguarding annual report
  • Local Authority Designated. Officer (LADO) and Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) annual reports