In 2010 I decided to make Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council subject to statutory intervention involving the council being overseen by 3 commissioners, appointed by me, and who are also responsible for exercising certain of the council’s functions such as appointing senior staff.
This intervention was necessary given serious failings in the council’s corporate governance, and no capacity among those leading the council to make improvement. The council’s previous attempts to address its problems had failed, allowing poor and failing services to continue. In particular the council operated to frustrate what the (then) mayor and Cabinet sought to do, the mayor and Cabinet showed a lack of efficient leadership, and the desire to pursue long standing political antagonisms were given priority over much-needed improvements to services for the public.
The intervention is scheduled to end on 31 July 2015.
Alongside this intervention my Rt Hon Friend the Secretary of State for Education and I are with the council implementing a separate intervention focused on children’s social care services, involving transferring responsibility for those services away from the council to an independent Trust. This intervention is designed to deliver sustainable improvements in children’s social care in Doncaster, addressing the long-standing serious weaknesses in those services.
In June this year the Local Government Association undertook a peer review of the council. That review has now reported, concluding that the council’s performance has materially improved, both politically and managerially, and that the council is no longer an outlier in terms of the performance expected of a local authority, except with regard to children’s services. Following that peer review, on 1 July the former Minister for Local Government (the Hon Member for Great Yarmouth) had a meeting with the lead commissioner on the corporate governance intervention, together with the council’s mayor and chief executive. At that meeting the mayor explained the improvements that the council had achieved and described the further progress the council were planning to make.
It is clear to me that, given the level of improvement that Doncaster has now achieved, their firm plans for the future, and their readiness to engage with the wider local government sector on improvement, continuing the statutory corporate intervention will add little, if any, value. The lead commissioner shares this view as he explained when he met my Hon Friend.
Accordingly, I intend to bring the statutory corporate intervention to an early close. It is also important that we now finalise the statutory intervention on children’s social care and take the final steps to establish the Children’s Services Trust; we will very shortly be consulting the council on the statutory direction which is the final technical step to establish the Trust.
In these circumstances I am proposing to end the statutory corporate intervention as soon as the Trust is fully up and running, which I expect to be by the end of September. Whilst statutory intervention is rightly a measure of last resort, its use at Doncaster is a clear demonstration of how appropriate intervention can be a powerful means of successfully addressing deep-rooted failings in a council and ensuring that it is able to provide the leadership and local services that local communities rightly expect.