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Commissioner's bulletin 31 March 2017
I write to offer a further update on the Government’s intervention into Rotherham Council.
We have now reached a significant stage.
We designed the intervention to have four phases. Phase one comprised the recruitment of a new executive team in the period up to the all-out local elections in May 2016. This included the return of the first tranche of the functions to Councillor decision-making powers. Essentially this was the first year of the intervention.
Phase two has now concluded with a further set of functions returned to the Council.
The current position following the receipt of amended Directions last week is that the following functions are still retained by Commissioners:
- Children's Social Care
- Waste Management
- Community Safety
- Performance Management
- Asset Management
- Human Resources
Children's Social Care is the most significant of the services still under intervention and here we are guided by the opinions of Ofsted as to progress. As with other Councils that are currently ranked as ‘inadequate’, Ofsted conduct a series of ‘Monitoring Visits’ which are designed to test improvement progress in key areas.
So far Ofsted have completed two out of four Monitoring Visits with other visits planned for May and later in the year.
The first two visits have found solid evidence of improvement momentum and have particularly remarked on the appropriate degree of positive leadership that the service now responds to. Pleasingly it has found that staff, including the many extra staff that we have recently recruited, are positive about their working circumstances and feel well led and supported.
That is not to say that these visits have not found other areas where they think further improvement is necessary or existing improvements need to be more firmly embedded, but Commissioners, and Council staff and Councillors can find solid endorsement of their work in these Ofsted opinions.
In Waste Management, there is an improvement plan which when completed will provide the basis for further consideration of the return of the function to the Council.
For Community Safety, it is intended to have an external review in order both to assess current progress and to ensure that we have taken external views into account in planning yet further improvements.
Performance Management and Asset Management are more technical ‘backroom’ services where recent changes need a little longer to embed.
The intervention has now run for 25 months and nearly 70% of the functions of the Council are now back under democratic leadership, and importantly are subject to democratic scrutiny by non-executive Councillors including those elected and forming the ‘opposition party’.
After the end of Phase one, the Commissioner team reduced from five to four, and now we have completed Phase two the team is again reducing from four to three and this is my cue to leave the team. I am delighted that my colleague Mary Ney, former Chief Executive of the London Borough of Greenwich, has agreed to stay on and lead a smaller team through to the conclusion of the intervention.
The intervention currently runs until February 2019 unless it is ended before that.
I am glad that the Council Budget was concluded following many hours of discussion and negotiation. I am pleased to welcome further new investment in Children’s Social Care and the Government’s willingness to allow Councils to increase Council Tax in order to fund Adult Social Care has also given the Council an opportunity to mitigate what would have been painful reductions in Adult Social Care funding. The Council has still had to make millions of pounds worth of reductions but the new officer team and the Cabinet Councillors as they grow in experience now have a firmer grip on what they need to do over the next 12 months to more strategically look at spend areas and push for new ways of organising and procuring which will save money.
The final tranche of the £5m extra grant which Commissioners won from Government, which was designed to aid the improvement work, has now been deployed. This grant of £5m will have more than covered the cost of the intervention including all Commissioner costs, expenses and office costs, but also contributed to an easing of the Council’s budget challenge in the short-term.
Sheffield City Region keen observers will note that the once planned elections for May 2017 have been postponed until May 2018. In the meantime this has allowed a further round of speculation about whether there is any other organisational form beyond that proposed which brought together for South Yorkshire Councils and others beyond South Yorkshire.
Commissioners, from the outset, have decided that they should encourage local Councillors to take ownership of these decisions because the effects will be felt way beyond the Commissioners role which should expire in 2019. However Commissioner Julie Kenny, who has had and continues to have many local connections and interests, has been a stalwart supporter of these discussions and other business led interests which form part of the collective strategy known as the Rotherham Plan.
The Rotherham Plan
The Plan was formally launched on 29 March. This is a collective effort across many agencies and organisations. The Plan outlines the priorities for the next period and makes a number of commitments designed to lead Rotherham forward as an area.
Big Plans for Rotherham Town Centre
Commissioners and the Council together pressed the Government to allow the Council to take back Rotherham Magistrates’ Court, which originally had to be transferred to the Government Court Service for a nominal amount under National Legislation. Now the court building has been declared as not necessary for its previous purpose, the Council has now taken the opportunity to include it in the Master Plan for Rotherham Town Centre and together with Forge Island, which is now also in the Council’s ownership, it represents a very significant site, adjacent to the Railway Station which should in time be developed for all new residential units, a cinema and other leisure uses. It has the potential to transform the town centre into a more vibrant and attractive townscape whilst retaining the traditional elements including the market and many buildings of distinction.
The Intervention going forward
There will be a revised ‘Mission Statement’ for the intervention and revised protocols which set out which Commissioner will be responsible for which retained function and how the other roles of providing Advice and in the case of Adult Social Care, as necessary, Direction, will be allocated between Commissioners. These protocols once finalised will be on the Council website.
For the future work, Mary Ney will be supported by Julie Kenny and Cllr Patricia Bradwell, Deputy Leader of Lincolnshire County Council, will continue as the Children’s Services Commissioner.
The next progress reporting date for the intervention team will be the 21 May 2017.
Sir Derek Myers, Lead Commissioner