Boris Johnson says investigation may be needed into the governance of Sandwell Council

The Prime Minister’s comments come just days after Rajbir Singh stepped down from his role as Sandwell Council leader

<p>Sandwell Council House</p>

Sandwell Council House

Boris Johnson has said an investigation into the governance of Sandwell Council “may be needed” after a number of controversies within the local authority.

Speaking at a media event on a train from Wolverhampton to Coventry last night (November 18), the Prime Minister said he was “very concerned” to hear about alleged corruption at Sandwell Council.

When questioned by the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) about whether the government would formally commit to an investigation into the governance of the authority, Mr Johnson: “I’m very grateful you have asked me this. I have been told about this a couple of times now.

“Obviously we may need to step in and ensure that things are straightened out, but that is really a matter for Michael Gove.

“I can’t comment on exactly what is going on in Sandwell, forgive me, I don’t know enough about the details - but I am very concerned to hear this. I think this is the third time this has been raised to me in the last couple of days. We are on it.”

Andy Street, Mayor for West Midlands, has assured people that Michael Gove is looking into the matter.

He said: “I know that Michael Gove is taking a very, very close personal interest in this, and he has been briefed on the most recent things. It would only be fair to say I don’t think he has decided yet what to do. But he is definitely very close to it.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, London. Picture date: Wednesday April 28, 2021. EMN-210514-182600001

Council leader steps down from role

The Prime Minister’s comments come just days after Rajbir Singh stepped down from his role as Sandwell Council leader and councillor earlier this week.

He stepped down as council leader on Tuesday and as a councillor on Wednesday.

Mr Singh, who became council leader in May this year, said he couldn’t “continue to balance the heavy demands of council leadership with the responsibilities I also have to my young family and my businesses.”

Rajbir Singh stepped down from his roles within Sandwell Council this week

In a statement issued by the council, he said: “I regret to announce that I am resigning as leader of Sandwell Council with immediate effect.

“It has been an enormous privilege to lead Sandwell and I am proud of the progress made in transforming the council into one that puts residents first.

“Being leader is also an incredibly time intensive job that requires total dedication. After much thought during a family holiday in India, I have come to the conclusion that I cannot continue to balance the heavy demands of council leadership with the responsibilities I also have to my young family and my businesses.

“It has been huge privilege to serve my community at such a young age and one day in the future when my personal circumstances are different, could seek opportunities to serve the community.

“It is in the best interests of residents that I stand aside now so that another councillor can step up to the challenge of leadership.

“I’d like to offer my huge thanks to the residents of Sandwell and colleagues in the council for their support and wish the council every success in the future.”

The 41-year-old had first been elected into Sandwell council in 2018. The unusual move to quit partway through a term of office is likely to see the seat remain vacant until next May’s local elections, the Local Democracy Reporting Service understands.

Sandwell Council controversies

In the last three years, the Labour-dominated authority has had five leaders and three chief executives.

Kim Bromley-Derry is the current temporary chief executive, who leads the council’s paid staff, as the authority attempts to find a permanent replacement.

Interviews for the role scheduled for next week are understood to have been cancelled without explanation. Cllr Maria Crompton (Labs, Tividale) has taken over as interim leader for a second time, and has pledged “business as usual” and “stability” at the authority.

This week it emerged that Sandwell Council undertook a consultation to force tenants to agree to changes to their tenancy agreements which could prevent legitimate complaints being made against the council on social media if implemented.

Shortly after Mr Singh’s appointment the council was embroiled in a scandal after school transport contracts worth more than £20 million were awarded to two firms owned by a disgraced ex-employee of the council.

A leaked review into the Wragge Report, which investigated corruption allegations in the borough, accused those carrying out the probe of racism, bias and political interference.

And an industrial dispute between waste disposal workers and Serco, which is contracted to operate waste services by Sandwell Council, continues to rumble on although threatened Christmas strikes have now been cancelled.

Meanwhile the decision to halt the closure of Tipton’s Walker Grange care home and upgrade it was announced yesterday after a sustained campaign by families of individuals who live there.

The political turmoil has come amid regular changes in paid leadership.

Mr Bromley-Derry was brought in as interim chief executive in August this year after David Stevens stood down after 18 months in charge.

Mr Stevens had himself been the interim boss before being handed the role permanently after Sandwell council failed to advertise the role nationally.

He was the only candidate to apply. This time the council has added £38,000 onto the boss’s salary and the major recruitment agency hired to entice the right candidate has been advertising a yearly wage of £185,000.

Stevens’ predecessor was Jan Britton who ran the council for eight years, including being in charge during the Wragge investigation before resigning after a series of rows with his political bosses.

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