By Matt Jarram, Local Democracy Reporter
A former local government ombudsman tasked with ensuring Nottingham City Council transforms the way it works says the next three months are crucial.
Sir Tony Redmond was appointed by the Government after the council was accused of ‘institutional blindness’ in the case of failed energy company Robin Hood Energy, which stands to lose £38m.
Concerns around the way the council makes decisions and manages risks were also identified, as well as the debt it has accumulated, which currently sits at nearly £1bn.
The council now has three years to balance its books or Government inspectors may step in and run the Labour-run authority.
Sir Redmond spoke to councillors at the Overview and Scrutiny committee on Wednesday, September 8, about the challenges facing the authority.
This includes achieving ‘financial resilience’ in terms of setting its budget and creating a ‘culture change’ across the whole of the authority.
Sir Redmond chairs a government-appointed improvement board, set up in January, which reports to ministers on the progress the authority is making.
Speaking after the meeting, he said: “There is a lot to do in a relatively short space of time. We are looking for a lot of quick progress in the next two to three months.
“That is important. If one looks back and reflects on where we started in January this year an awful lot has been done.”
Sir Redmond said his role is not to tell the authority how to run services but to ensure they are properly resourced and financially stable.
A document on this should be prepared by the end of this year.
The council has already changed its constitution to ensure there is more accountability when it comes to making financial decisions.
It will also be reviewing the companies it owns as well as selling off land and buildings it no longer needs to generate around £100m.
The Local Democracy Reporting Service asked Sir Redmond if the authority can turn things around overall in the next three years.
He said: “I believe it is realistic at this point in time.”
He told councillors at the meeting that scrutiny committees should play an important role in “challenging and questioning the work” the council is doing.
He said “matters of substance” had not been included on agendas in the past.
He told councillors: “The biggest challenge the council faces, and it is not an unreasonable challenge, is the ability to produce a lot of fundamental change in a relatively short period of time.
“How does it relate to the services they are going to deliver over the next three years and how are they going to be resourced. There is much needed to be done.”
He said the council needs to look at how risk is managed in the future and “who does what so the accountability is clear”.
Cllr Ethan Radford (Lab) asked Sir Redmond how unique Nottingham’s situation is compared to other local authorities.
“My role is not to compare Nottingham with other local authorities,” Sir Redmond said.
“I must look at the overall operation of the council and is there good practice and governance? and make sure it is delivering the services in the best way to its residents.”