Councillors accept intervention plan for Sandwell Council

Sandwell councillors have voted to accept intervention plans at the authority, as an external auditor told them they must “get a corporate grip” on day-to-day affairs in the council.

Sandwell Council
Sandwell Council

It comes as the government said it set to introduce commissioners into the council.

In the first full council meeting of the year at the Labour-led authority, held on Wednbesday, local politicians heard advisors Grant Thornton's comment on its findings within the ‘Value for Money Governance Review’, released last December.

Mark Stocks and Guy Clifton, both external auditors for Grant Thornton, attended the meeting and said that despite the “green shoots of recovery” within the council, the local authority must be able to show “willingness to embrace” the action plan put forward.

A total of 45 recommendations were highlighted in the review, including three statutory recommendations.

Kim Bromley-Derry, the interim chief executive at Sandwell Council, said: “While I appreciate any form of intervention is concerning, the minister has also acknowledged the green shoots of recovery, and the importance of the council remaining focused on making improvements.

“For you tonight we have a proposed action plan, which is in my view, more critical now than ever before. How will the council respond to the Grant Thornton review and the concerns of the government will determine when commissioners are no longer needed at Sandwell.”

Various representations from local councillors were heard.

Councillor Joanne Hadley, said: “Sandwell council undertook a detailed investigation into the disgraced findings behind the Wragge report. These findings have also been filed into the Cox report.

“Sandwell council also commissioned, at a considerable expense to Sandwell residents, a report into these costings, led by QC Jenny Richards.

“Why hasn’t the council published these two reports, before the upcoming council elections, so that those who have been victims of original racism in the Wragge report can see how they have been treated?”

But Councillor Peter Hughes, said: “The previous comments, I believe, actually represent the instability the council has faced over the last couple of years.

“Our council officers have been bogged down in this, wasting time and resources spent better on council services. We are allowing ourselves to led by our nose by people on social media who are happy for this to happen.

“Let us move on. These recommendations need to be followed.”

Councillor Richard McVittie said: “I totally appreciate the findings in the report, But as somebody who’s concerned about morale of our staff, how do we never get a chance to move forward and promote the good works going on in the council?”

Councillor Luke Giles , said: “Today’s announcement doesn’t need a knee-jerk reaction. I think the auditor’s report was good, no one is arguing against that.

“There are green shoots. We are moving in the right direction. We have new leadership driving us forward. Let’s be sensible and try not to score political points.”

It comes as Kemi Badenoch, minister of state at the department for levelling up, housing and communities, confirmed that independent commissioners could be introduced to oversee improvements at Sandwell Council.

The commissioners, who could be in place for two years, would prepare and implement an improvement plan into the troubled local authority.

They would report on the delivery of the plan to the Secretary of State every six months. The commissioners could also seek appoint a permanent chief executive officer within 18 months and then “step back from the council”.

An amended motion was put forward by the Sandwell Conservatives to ask the interim chief executive, Kim Bromley-Derry, to write a letter to the secretary of state accepting the government’s intention to bring commissioners into the local authority.

But Councillor Bob Piper said: “What the [Grant Thorntons] report doesn’t do is call for the government’s to intervene. The Local Government Association didn’t think there was a need for intervention.

“I’d like to oppose the amendment, and say that’s what we need to do is to continue with what Grant Thorntons correctly describes as green shoots of recovery, and to allow the council, both the opposition and the main party, to actually conduct its business in accordance with those recommendations.”

The amended motion was not carried. The original motion, to approve the improvement plan to address the recommendations made by Grant Thornton, was carried.

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