By Matt Jarram, Local Democracy Reporter
Government-appointed commissioners are likely to be based at Nottingham City Council for at least two years if their intervention is confirmed.
The Government has expressed serious concerns on how the Labour-run authority is managing its finances and on Thursday (June 23) announced it was planning to step in.
The Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Michael Gove, now believes government commissioners need to be called in to sort out the financial problems.
Mr Gove says he is ‘minded’ to appoint Sir Tony Redmond as lead commissioner to run parts of the authority, effectively taking control of some key decisions away from locally-elected councillors.
Further information published on Thursday, detailing how the Government is making the case for introducing commissioners, outlines what they could be responsible for;
- Overseeing the full range of the authority’s improvement activities, including
its strategies to secure the medium to long-term sustainability of the council,
its plans to uncover all instances of poor governance, and its plans to
transform front line services and the culture of the organisation
- Providing advice and challenge to the council to improve its financial stability
and its ability to meet future commitments without additional borrowing,
including advising upon credible budget planning
- The power to amend budgets where Commissioners consider that those
budgets constitute a risk to the authority’s ability to fulfil its best value duty
- Providing advice and challenge to the council on the governance and
structure of its commercial portfolio, which is the companies it currently owns
- All functions relating to the appointment and dismissal of officers
In a letter to the chief executive of the council, Mel Barrett, the government has said: “The Chief Executive has also worked closely and constructively with the Improvement and Assurance Board since January 2021 to address the many challenges the authority faces.
“However, whilst the building blocks of recovery have been put in place, difficult decisions will be required moving forward and the scale of the challenge cannot be underestimated.
“The Secretary of State is concerned that further serious issues may be uncovered which could have a severe impact on the authority’s ability to maintain and increase the momentum of the required improvements.
“This lack of assurance, as highlighted in the Improvement and Assurance Board’s latest progress report and Sir Tony Redmond’s assessment of the Housing Revenue Account issue, along with the risk of progress stalling or slowing, is significant and the proposed intervention is necessary and expedient to secure compliance with the best value duty.
“On culture and leadership, a poor culture has been allowed to embed within the authority over several years, whereby robust challenge and intellectual curiosity did not take place, or on occasions when it did happen, was subsequently ignored.
“Whilst the current leadership has taken positive steps to address these failings, these deep-rooted practices will take time to resolve.
“There is viable concern, as set out by the Improvement and Assurance Board, that the issues that have been uncovered with relation to the Housing Revenue Account may have permeated into other areas of the Authority.
“On services, the authority’s actions in diverting money from the Housing Revenue Account to the General Fund has had a negative impact on some of the council’s most vulnerable residents.
“The magnitude of the issues facing Nottingham City Council’s portfolio of companies raises concern that the council does not have the capacity to act at the pace required to remedy the problems, and there is a risk this will impact on service delivery.”
The council will have to pay the commissioners’ reasonable expenses, and such fees as the Secretary of State determines are to be paid to them.
The Secretary of State proposes that the commissioners will be in place for an initial period of two years, and that this should only be extended if the authority fails to make satisfactory progress in making the changes necessary to deliver ‘Best Value’ in its governance and operations.