Friday, October 21, 2016

News: Rotherham to regain regen powers


Rotherham Council looks set to regain its decision making powers over regeneration matters by the end of the year as councillors show "ambition and determination."

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.

Julie Kenny CBE, the businesswoman who founded and ran Rotherham manufacturing success story, Pyronix (pictured), was appointed as a supporting commissioner and has been responsible for making decisions on growing the local economy and ensuring the Council is working with others to improve jobs and housing opportunities. She has also been overseeing the Council's relationships with partners, and the voluntary and community sector.

In February 2016, a year after commissioners were brought in, a third of decision making responsibilities were returned to the council but those relating to regeneration remained.


Writing to the Secretary of State with an 18 month progress report, lead commissioner Sir Derek Myers explained that council services, particularly Children's Services, "have moved away from failure towards the sustainable quality services that local people require."

Regarding decisions remaining with commissioners, including regeneration, Sir Derek said: "The number of actual executive decisions is low and the commissioner task is really to maintain a sense of ambition both for how the Council can take forward its regeneration ambitions, working closely with the Sheffield city region, and also strive for the modernisation of working arrangements in order to reduce costs and drive better value.

"Commissioners believe that the test to be applied to these services is whether advisory cabinet members, who could translate into being executive decision makers, share the same ambition and determination as commissioners and we now believe that this is the case.

"On that basis for these services we also expect to recommend in our next report at the beginning of November 2016 that these services also be returned to the Council towards the end of 2016."

As part of the recovery plan, one outcome concerns a growing local economy: "Ensuring the borough's own efforts and work with others increases the number of good jobs and housing opportunities."

Recent progress includes the Council's Local Plan which is set to be adopted next year next allowing for the allocation of new land for housing and employment uses. The public inquiry into the plan started in July with initial hearings and will continue in the autumn.

Key decisions made by Kenny include the sale of land to enable the £37m Gulliver's Valley development, the land deal for Rotherham university campus, the potential acquisition of Forge Island, town centre parking initiatives, and changes to town centre events which saw the popular Rotherham by the Sea event scaled back.

The Rotherham Economic Growth Plan has also entered the implementation phase with interviews with 30 of Rotherham's growing companies to understand what help they might need to continue their growth. Development work continues around the Advanced Manufacturing Innovation District (AMID) and the proposed Higher Education Campus in Rotherham town centre. A masterplan identifying the deliverability of key town centre development sites is expected to be launched in April 2017.

The progress report also discusses the proposed changes to the HS2 route through Rotherham which has "significant implications for the borough, its residents and businesses and it therefore remains a high priority for the Council."

This week, the Council announced that plans are in place to regain decision making over licensing. The Casey report was critical of the Council and its licensing function, especially around taxi licensing which was suggested played a role in the facilitation of child sexual abuse. Commissioner Mary Ney set out the improvements made to the Council's licensing function and that elected members have the skills and capability to take on the decision making role.

Rotherham Council website

Images: RMBC


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