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Commissioner's bulletin December 2015
We are now week 40 into the Government’s intervention into Rotherham Council and there is quite a lot of news to report.
New management team
The Council agreed a new revised Management Team structure in June 2015 and this is now being recruited to.
We were pleased to announce on the 12th November that Sharon Kemp, Assistant Chief Executive and Strategic Director (Reform) at Manchester City Council will be joining as the new Chief Executive. We are delighted that Sharon is able to make an early start and will be joining us with effect from the 18th January, and following a two week programme designed to get her to meet lots of people inside and outside the Council, will take over the formal responsibilities from the 1st February.
On 30th November the Council announced the appointment, subject to contract, of Dermot Pearson as Assistant Director, Legal Services and Monitoring Officer. This is a vitally important post and Dermot joins us with good experience from a similar position for Bradford Metropolitan District Council. He should join us on 8th March.
Recruitment for seven other senior posts in the Council is ongoing and we hope to have all senior staff appointed and in place by next Spring although we have had a disappointing start to our recruitment of a new Strategic Director for Adult Care and Housing, when we were unable to proceed past longlisting for lack of suitable candidates. If you know anybody who wants to have a go at one of the most interesting jobs in local government do let me know!
The Commissioner team will evolve as the intervention moves into the next phase with the appointment of a permanent Chief Executive as described above. Commissioner Stella Manzie, CBE who has with enormous energy and drive, performed the joint roles of Commissioner and Managing Director of the Council (in effect acting Chief Executive) will complete her service with the Council at the end of January 2016.
We know now that the Goddard Review, set up by the Government to look into the abuse of children, will focus on a number of places as well as taking other evidence and making other inquiries. We expect Rotherham to be one of those places though it will not be one of the main investigation sites. It is of course our duty to ensure that lessons are learned but we must not confuse the Goddard Review with the appropriate investigation and prosecution by the police of offenders and the Council’s own efforts to cure the problems in Children’s Services and move on. We will not serve the interests of young people and their parents locally if we allow it to be continuously said that they cannot look to the Council or the police with confidence if there are current difficulties.
Next update to the Secretaries of State
The Commissioner Team are required to report to both Secretaries of State (Department for Education and Communities and Local Government) at the end of November 2015 and we expect to put the letter to the Secretaries of State in the public domain after we have had a reply.
Broadly we are able to say that progress remains positive and although there remain areas of Children’s Services that need further strengthening, the Council is already in better shape than it was and has good prospects for further improvement.
The budget is the biggest single threat to the improvement and ambitions of the Council as frankly every pound we spend on improving Children’s Services is a pound that we have to find somewhere else and that potentially weakens other parts of the Council.
The Council has not yet established a track record for extracting more value from its budget and this will be a new set of skills that will need to be cultivated and practised. The budget proposals that we have seen this year are quite crude and we frankly struggled to put a budget together for next year. As I write we still have not seen the detailed grant numbers from the Department for Communities and Local Government and there will be a number of other special grants which are highly significant for us. The apparent ability of the Council to consider a higher level of Council Tax to pay for social care is welcome and is likely to be utilised by the Borough, but of course this is a decision that can only be made by Councillors next year.
Following the concern about lack of standards in the Council’s taxi licensing arrangements, a new more demanding policy has been agreed and we are now reviewing existing licences against that new policy.
We have identified 67 cases where there seems to be a strong need to review the licence and at the time of writing some 24 cases have been heard through a formal hearing system, conducted by Commissioner Mary Ney. Of these 24 cases, 16 licences have been revoked; one licence suspended; four formal warnings issued and only three required no further action.
The rest of the cases are due to be heard at panel hearings between now and the end of March 2016.
The Council was delighted to announce that Gulliver’s, an established family business with an existing entertainment campus near Milton Keynes, was proposing to establish a second campus within Rotherham Borough. The family business is delighted at the location and have very imaginative and bold plans which will require an investment of £37m in a children’s attraction, hotel, holiday chalets and nature trail, creating 250 full-time equivalent jobs and 120 in the construction phase.
We are also pleased that agreement has been reached with Rotherham College of Arts and Technology to site a Higher Education Campus on land owned by the Council.
In addition the Council is refreshing (after 10 years) its Rotherham Town Centre Masterplan. At present we seem to be carrying more retail units than the market can fill and this has a very serious effect on the look and feel of the town. Without prejudging, it seems likely that we will want to shrink the retail core and work harder to add in more leisure uses. A cinema has been talked about for the town centre for many years and we see no reason why we cannot deliver this in due course.
The town centre will benefit from more residential accommodation so there is more of a local population with money to spend in the local shops.
The Borough is beginning to be an enthusiastic supporter of the City Region and the arrangements for a directly elected Mayor in 2017.
There is quite a lot of detail yet to be nailed down but the Government has offered £30m a year for a number of years. This will be a mixture of revenue and capital expenditure and is designed to support new infrastructure in order to boost growth, and grow jobs and increase the speed of housing growth.
Rotherham is well placed to put on this growth and our local Growth Plan commits the Council to delivering 10,000 new jobs in the private sector over the next 10 years and 14,000 new homes before 2030.