Monday, November 21, 2016

News: Decision-making powers set to return to Rotherham Council

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Rotherham Council has not yet been able to show that it has made proper arrangements to secure economy, efficiency and effectiveness in its use of resources but progress is being made under Government-appointed commissioners.

Commissioners at Rotherham Council are confident that most of the outstanding decision-making functions can be returned to councillors and that they are now "predominantly good quality, well-run and have strong leadership in place."

Rothbiz reported last month that decision making powers over regeneration matters could be returned by the end of the year as councillors show "ambition and determination."

Adult social care, economic growth, town centre management, waste collection, community safety, grounds maintenance and audit are among the functions which commissioners are satisfied can now be returned to Rotherham Council. Children's safeguarding and social care services will continue to be overseen by commissioners while improvements continue.

The authority was deemed "not fit for purpose" by the Government and a statutory inspection by Louise Casey, a government official and director general of the Troubled Families board, found a "complete failure of political and officer leadership in Rotherham."

The review came after a 2014 report into child sexual exploitation in Rotherham that described how vulnerable children had been repeatedly failed by the council.

As part of an intervention package announced by Eric Pickles, the then Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, commissioners were appointed in 2015 to provide leadership, taking over the roles of the "wholly dysfunctional" cabinet, which promptly resigned when the report was published.

The commissioners, led by Sir Derek Myers, could be in place until 2019 with regular reviews and reports resulting in a phased roll back of functions over the duration of the intervention.

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At the same time, local councils are using external auditors from the private sector to assess their abilities in areas such as meeting legal requirements, financial statements, value for money and financial resilience.

The auditors need to be satisfied as to whether there have been effective arrangements to secure economy, efficiency and effectiveness in the use of resources. External auditors at KPMG concluded that this had not been the case in Rotherham in 2015/16, as it did for 2013/14 and 2014/15.

The auditors acknowledged that a significant amount of progress has been achieved during 2015/16 in line with the Corporate Improvement Plan, drawn up by the council and its commissioners focusing on "A Fresh Start" for the borough. The report also mentioned the new strategic leadership team put in place at the Council.

KPMG concluded: "Although significant progress has been made, as at February 2016, over half of the areas in the Improvement Plan were yet to be completed and there nevertheless remains a significant programme of improvement work to complete. This, in combination with the fact that the new substantive strategic leadership team were only appointed in the final quarter of the year under audit (2015/16), suggests that the team will require further time to fully implement and embed the improvements to governance."

Since February, a "Phase Two Action Plan" has been signed off, a new chief executive started in post and the Rotherham Together Partnership launched its 2016/17 Plan.

Sir Derek Myers, lead commissioner at Rotherham Council, (pictured) said: "I and my fellow commissioners are confident that significant improvements have been made in many more of the Council's core services.

"We are now recommending to Government that Rotherham councillors are in a strong position to take responsibility and accountability for these services, and that the organisation is fit to support them in doing so for local people.

"There are a number of other areas – including children's services – where we will continue to work with councillors and officers to ensure ongoing progress. While much has been achieved and robust improvements have been made, there is still more to do to make sure the remaining services are fit for purpose."

Local people are being asked for their views, and can put forward comments by the end of December.

Cllr. Chris Read, leader of Rotherham Council, added: "We continue to work closely with our team of commissioners in order to ensure that the Council improves and better serves Rotherham residents. I'm pleased that we have now reached a point where commissioners are satisfied that the overwhelming majority of Council decisions can be made directly by democratically elected councillors and look forward to the Secretary of State's decision.

"We have achieved significant improvements across the board, but we are clear there remains more to do be done, and we are determined to complete the work that we have started."

Rotherham Council website

Images: RMBC


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