• Wednesday, April 17, 2024

News

Government commissioners could run Birmingham council for five years

A letter from the government to Birmingham City Council’s chief executive points to “broader weaknesses” in the council’s environment

The government letter says that Birmingham’s recovery is likely to take a number of years

By: Kate Knowles

A LETTER from the government to Birmingham City Council’s chief executive outlines “serious” finance and governence concerns – and reveals commissioners could be in place for five years, writes Kate Knowles.

It states that government commissioners will take over the running of the council for as long as five years if required and outlines in detail the “severe” situation. The letter states: “Given the scale of the issues, the secretary of state proposes that directions to the authority should be in place for five years, noting that the authority’s situation is severe, and the improvement and recovery is likely to take a number of years.

“If the Secretary of State considers at any time it would be appropriate to change directions or withdraw them, then he will do so. His concern will be to ensure the directions operate for as long, and only in the form, as he considers it should operate.”

Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove confirmed the action on Tuesday (19) in a statement to parliament.

He said: “I do not take these decisions lightly, but it is imperative in order to protect the interests of the residents and taxpayers of Birmingham, and to provide ongoing assurance to the whole local government sector.” He will also launch an inquiry into how Birmingham City Council got into this position and how it can improve.

The letter, from Max Soule, deputy director, local government stewardship to chief executive Deborah Cadman OBE, cites the handling of the equal pay claims and the failed implementation of the Oracle IT system as evidence for Gove’s decision.

It also points to “broader weaknesses” in the council’s environment and detailed criticism in areas of governance, financial governance, leadership, and capability to improve.

These include a very high turnover of senior staff, a culture of “sweeping issues under the carpet or blaming others” and interventions into waste services and special educational needs.

Soule also points to recent, serious concerns raised by social care and social housing regulators.

He writes: “The authority has been beset by systemic failings over several years including poor culture, weak governance, a challenging relationship with trade unions and ineffective service delivery. These failings have been exacerbated by instability and churn at senior officer level.”

He also referred to the 2015-19 intervention following the Kerslake report on the Trojan Horse affair which “found failings in governance, transparency, and financial management”.

Birmingham City Council now has the opportunity to make representations to Gove but given the “exceptional level” of concerns and risk, he has set a shorter period than is standard for these to be submitted. (Local Democracy Reporting Service)

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