Nottingham City Council avoids further Government intervention

Loxley House from Trent Street
By Joe Locker, Local Democracy Reporter

The Government will not be appointing commissioners at Nottingham City Council.

As part of its ongoing improvement work, the Labour-run authority was given a list of 67 requirements it needed to meet by the end of November last year.

If progress to meet these was deemed insufficient by ministers at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, it would have faced tighter controls and potential commissioner intervention.

An email was sent out to staff at the council, from chief executive Mel Barrett and council leader Cllr David Mellen (Lab), informing them of the news on February 2.

In a statement to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, Cllr Mellen said: “We very much welcome the Government’s decision which reflects the current arrangements in place are working.

“The council has already made many of the improvements expected of us by the Improvement and Assurance Board (IAB) and the Government.

“In particular, we had agreed a balanced budget and medium term financial plan prior to the soaring inflation and energy costs that have affected the finances of households and councils up and down the country – and we are well on the way to balancing the budget for a second year.

“We recognise there is much more work to do to increase the pace of the changes and to put the council on a solid financial footing despite the huge budget pressures we and all councils are facing currently.”

The authority has proposed savings totalling £29m for the 2023/24 year, in a bid to fill a £32m black hole.

It narrowly avoided commissioner intervention after the uncovering of a multi-million pound misspend in its Housing Revenue Account, whereby money intended for housing tenants and council house improvements had been transferred to another account.

This figure is now understood to be in the region of £51m, if including inflationary pressures.

Instead Sir Tony Redmond, chair of the IAB, was given more powers to direct, rather than just advise.

In December, the authority had its final meeting of the year with Sir Tony, who then reported back to the Government on the council’s progress and its answers to all 67 requirements.

The council’s fate was due to be revealed by the end of January.

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) failed to publish its response by this date.

Mr Barrett said: “We have previously said that our strong preference was to continue working with the IAB, with its balance of support and challenge, but that we were committed to working effectively with whatever arrangements Government put in place so that the intervention can be as successful as possible in as short a time as possible.

“We very much welcome the continued involvement of Sir Tony Redmond as chair of the IAB.

“We are committed to working together to address the need to reduce the council’s cost base whilst ensuring that we are providing economic, efficient and effective Best Value services to the people of Nottingham.”

In a letter to the council and Sir Tony, sent by Lee Rowley MP (Con), Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Local Government, the department notes “good progress.”

The letter reads: “I am glad to hear that there has been a step up in progress since the escalation from non-statutory to statutory intervention in September, and that the council is now adopting a more ‘serious sense of purpose’.

“I note the good progress on improving decision-making processes and constitutional reform, for example.

“It is clear, however, there is still much to do to deliver the level of service deserved by the residents of Nottingham.

“It is paramount that Nottingham does not loosen its grip nor lose its focus on its improvement priorities over the next quarter. I am supportive of you using your powers of direction expediently and decisively if you are not satisfied with the progress being made.”

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