Communities Secretary John Denham has today accepted the Audit Commission’s report on Doncaster Council and has said he will use his statutory powers to intervene.
The Chief Executive criticised in the report has already left the council and has been replaced by Jo Miller as acting Chief Executive on an interim basis. Mr Denham has today appointed Rob Whiteman, the new Chief Executive of the local government improvement organisation IDEA, to chair an emergency advisory board to provide, if urgent decisions are needed, leadership and clear support to the acting Chief Executive.
The report has identified severe failings across the council and the Secretary of State takes very seriously the deep-seated nature of some of the issues highlighted in the report. The Government is now urgently discussing the form that intervention should take, including active consideration of appointing Commissioners to take over some or all of the council’s functions.
The Audit Commission report into Doncaster Council found that the council was failing due to a culture of poor governance, following a corporate governance inspection.
The Commission recommended that the Secretary of State use his powers to issue a direction to intervene, and set out steps that could be taken to improve the council’s performance.
The Government is already intervening in Doncaster’s Children’s Services, following their inadequate Ofsted annual rating in 2008. That work is having an impact, as the Audit Commission acknowledges. The action the Government is now proposing will help secure further improvements.
John Denham said:
I welcome this investigation by the Audit Commission and I accept the recommendation in the Report. I take very seriously the failure of Doncaster Local Authority - the Mayor, Cabinet, Chief Officers and Councillors - to serve the people of Doncaster well. From the outset, I have made it clear that I would take whatever action was necessary to look after the best interests of local people. I can make it clear today that I will use my statutory powers to intervene.
The Audit Commission’s report on Doncaster Council shows the severity of the problems in the local authority across the board and concludes that the local authority is failing the people of Doncaster, not just on one service or issue but in the very way it operates. This is absolutely unacceptable.
I welcome the appointment of Jo Miller on an interim basis as acting Chief Executive, following the departure of the Chief Executive criticised in the report.
I am immediately establishing an emergency advisory board chaired by Rob Whiteman and involving other senior colleagues with relevant experience, so that if urgent decisions are needed at the council, it can provide clear leadership and support to the acting Chief Executive. I will not hesitate, if necessary, to use my power of direction to enable me, in consultation with the board, to take further action.
I am now considering the form of intervention that will best serve the people of Doncaster. There should be no doubt that I am actively considering appointing commissioners to take over some or all of the functions of the council.
I call on everyone at the local authority to accept the report’s findings, acknowledge the severity of the failings, and work with Government and other partners to move on from this unacceptable state of corporate paralysis for the good of Doncaster.
I have asked for an early meeting to be held with other government departments and the LGA this afternoon. In addition I have invited local partners from the public and other sectors to help me form the detail of my intervention and to contribute to the establishment of robust arrangements to ensure rapid improvements in Doncaster. This invitation has been extended by letter today.
As a first step my officials will be holding meetings this week with partners and the local authority’s leading officers to explore the way forward on intervention.
Rob Whiteman, incoming Managing Director of the Improvement and Development Agency, said:
The residents of Doncaster quite rightly deserve assurance that every possible effort will be made to help the local council improve. It is absolutely vital that changes are put in place to the way the authority operates, services are safeguarded and local people start to receive a better deal.
Notes to editors
- Where poor performance at local level is critical or long standing Central Government has a wide range of intervention powers, both informal and statutory. Action may range from:
- Use of statutory powers under section 15 of the Local Government Act 1999 to direct the Council to take specific action to secure recovery or improvement. This is likely where other action has failed to lead to improvement
- In the most serious cases, under section 15(6) of the 1999 Act, the relevant Secretary of State may himself exercise certain specified functions of the authority, or appoint a nominee to do so.
The Audit Commission report is available here: www.audit-commission.gov.uk/doncasterreport (external link).
As a matter of urgency views on the form of intervention are being sought from the LGA, the Mayor, Doncaster Council and key partners (including South Yorkshire Police, NHS Doncaster, Yorkshire Forward, Jobcentre Plus, Doncaster Community Empowerment Network, Doncaster CVS, South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive, Doncaster Chamber and YoHr Space, Yorkshire & Humber Improvement & Efficiency Partnership).
The emergency advisory board will be chaired by Rob Whiteman and, if urgent decisions are needed, will advise the Secretary of State.
Rob Whiteman is the Chief Executive of the London Borough of Barking & Dagenham. He will become the managing director of the Improvement & Development Agency (IDeA) in early May.