The commissioners report was submitted to the Secretary of State with Lee Rowley MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, formally publishing his response this week.
Commissioners Kim Bromley-Derry CBE and Jim Taylor were appointed by the government in March 2022.
Their second report found: “We are of the view that there has been significant hard work and considerable progress made at the council in the past six months. This is no longer a council shying away from scrutiny or unprepared to listen and learn but a council demonstrating self-awareness and a maturity that was previously absent."
The work the council has undertaken to help residents during the cost of living crisis was mentioned throughout the report noting the positive, collaborative work the council and the cabinet has undertaken to support Sandwell residents.
Sandwell Council’s financial resilience was commended despite the backdrop of significant pressures all local authorities are faced with.
Since the commissioners’ report was submitted, external auditors CIPFA reviewed Sandwell’s progress in the way it manages its finances. Sandwell’s rating has been upgraded from two to three stars out of a possible five. This has been acknowledged in an addendum to the report submitted by commissioners in January 2023.
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Local Government and Building Safety Lee Rowley MP, said: "I recognise the progress since June and that the Council is now better placed to tackle the complex, long-term challenges it still faces.
“I note your priorities for the coming months include much needed work on the customer journey and culture within the Council, and that your assessment tallies with that of the follow-up reviews by Grant Thornton, the Local Government Association and the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy.”
During the commissioners reporting period of June to December 2022, the council was faced with difficult decisions including the decision to develop the site at Brandhall for housing and a school – a decision for which the call-in process has seen the decision reaffirmed – the SEND transport contract, Sandwell land and property and the Sandwell Leisure Trust contract. Commissioners report that these decisions were “based on clear evidence and with a transparency and reasoning which was previously lacking”.
Councillor Kerrie Carmichael, Leader of Sandwell Council, said: “The latest report and the comments from the minister recognise the significant progress we have made. It’s really encouraging to see our progress in financial management from a progressive two-star authority to a three-star authority in such a short space of time. We are not shying away from the hard work and difficult decisions that lie ahead. We will continue to improve the way we work and ensure these changes are embedded and sustainable."
Lead Commissioner, Kim Bromley-Derry CBE DL, added: “There is still a lot of challenging work to be done but we consider the council is on the right path to the sustainable improvements needed.”