Thursday, February 5, 2015

News: Commissioners to take over Rotherham Council

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Rotherham Council, deemed "not fit for purpose" by the government, is without a leader and permanent chief executive, and is set to hand over all of its executive functions to government-appointed commissioners.

Last August, a report into child sexual exploitation in Rotherham described how vulnerable children have been repeatedly failed by the council. The report led to the resignation as leader by Cllr. Roger Stone and two weeks after the publication, the resignation of chief executive, Martin Kimber.

A statutory inspection of Rotherham Council was undertaken at the request of the government by Louise Casey, a government official and director general of the Troubled Families board. It was published yesterday, presenting "a disturbing picture of a council failing in its duty to protect vulnerable children and young people from harm" and a "complete failure of political and officer leadership in Rotherham."

The report concludes that Rotherham Council has failed its citizens, is failing to comply with the statutory best value duty and needs a fresh start.

On the back of the report, Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, announced details of an intervention package in the House of Commons.

All-out elections are set to be held in 2016 and every fourth year thereafter, with all councillors standing for re-election at the same time rather than the usual one third.

In the immediate term Pickles said that he was minded to appoint commissioners who will provide new leadership, taking over the roles of the current "wholly dysfunctional" cabinet, which promptly resigned. This means that decisions, not only about children's services, but budgets, bins, business and regeneration, will be taken by five government-appointed commissioners.

The Council has used a "strong" Leader and Cabinet form of executive which carries out all of the Council's functions that are not the responsibility of any other part of the Council, whether by law or under the Constitution. Executive functions include key decisions taken by the Cabinet that generally include decisions relating to incurring significant expenditure or are significant in terms of its effects on communities living or working in an area. Cabinet members are delegated powers to make decisions regarding council undertakings that are within their remit and a number of committees are used to deal with some of its functions.

The commissioners are also set to exercise other functions of the council "where there can be no confidence in the council's ability to act responsibly." They will also have the functions of appointing the chief executive, chief finance officer and monitoring officer, and of nominating members to other bodies. Jan Ormondroyd took on the chief exec role in an interim capacity in December and recruitment for a permanent successor is underway.

There are 11,000 paid staff of the Council who run the local authority on a day to day basis. As one of the borough's biggest employers the council had gross income and expenditure of over £700m last year.

Eric Pickles told the house: "From day one the commissioners will have the role of considering and reporting to me what functions can be rolled back to the council, but only when they are confident the functions will be exercised properly.

"And every quarter I am proposing that the commissioners review and report to me what functions then can be rolled back to ensure there is a phased roll back of functions over the duration of the intervention.

"My hope and expectation is that this roll-back can soon begin and after the 2016 elections major services will be able to be returned, with the council resuming full responsibility for its range of services within four years."

The commissioners, similar to those put in place in neighbouring Doncaster Council in 2010, would include a lead commissioner to provide overall leadership and direction, a commissioner with a "managing director" role, a children's commissioner and two supporting commissioners.

The council will continue to operate, bins will still be emptied and businesses will still receive support. How key decisions will be made now and in the future is still to be determined.

The leader of the Council, Cllr. Paul Lakin, in the role that chairs meetings of their-own cabinet and has overall responsibility for making decisions, has resigned as leader and as a councillor. The cabinet, which is meant to provide effective strategic leadership with members taking special responsibility for an area of the Council's work, announced their intention to "resign our positions as soon as transitional arrangements can be put in place."

Eric Pickles concluded: "The crimes committed against children is so appalling, the council's remedy is so utterly inadequate, that the government cannot in good conscious turn a blind eye.

"These are exceptional circumstances that justify Whitehall's intervention so we can make the council address its failings and prevent this ever happening again. I believe the public both in Rotherham and across the country would expect nothing less.

"The action I am proposing today is to restore good local governance to Rotherham, where all can have confidence again in their council and they can take great pride in their borough."

Cllr. Chris Read, a spokesperson for the ruling Labour group said yesterday: "Since the publication of the Jay Report, the council has begun to take measures to improve the support for victims, bringing in new management, and to tighten licensing controls. Sadly, as the report today makes clear, we have not been able to do enough, quickly enough.

"In light of this report, the Council's Cabinet announced earlier today that they take responsibility for the failings and are stepping down as Commissioners come in to Rotherham.

"We welcome their appointment and look forward to working with them to improve services for all of Rotherham residents.

"The council has today written to the Department for Communities and Local Government to ask the Commissioners to start their work as soon as possible, and to seek further details about how the new arrangements will work.

"We will keep the public informed of developments as they occur over the coming days."

Images: RMBC

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