Sandwell Council review identifies failures

Sandwell Council HouseSandwell Council House
Sandwell Council House

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External auditor reports on failures at Sandwell Council

A disastrous report into the governance of Sandwell has described a “breakdown in trust, respect and confidence” between officers and senior elected members, and the council itself as “insular and siloed”.

The ‘Value for Money Governance Review’, issued by Grant Thorntons, an external auditor, undertakes annual reviews of local authorities effectiveness in using resources and its economic practice.

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Officialised on December 3, but only released on Wednesday (December 9), the report into Sandwell council’s governance highlighted:

Deteriorating senior officer and senior member relationships over a number of years.

  • An absence of intervention and decision making.
  • A lack of clear contract management responsibility.
  • Lessons “not being learnt” over failures to take ownership over incidents, such as the leakage of the Wragge Report.
  • A lack of “corporate grip” to provide a clear vision for Sandwell Council.

The report noted the amount of time spent investigating internal allegations and complaints is so great, it has “negatively impacted” on the council’s ability to improve its public services.

They also noted a series of incidents which have negatively affected the council’s reputation, such as:

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  • the sale of Providence Place at a loss of £22 million to the Sandwell taxpayer,
  • the fallout of SEND contracts,
  • the underperformance of waste services with SERCO, and
  • a near potential legal action from festival promoters over the cancellation of MADE festival

They concluded without the “green shoots” and changes made by the interim chief executive, Kim Bromley-Derry, and the new senior leadership team, intervention by national government “may have been necessary”.

Cllr Kerrie Carmichael, Leader of Sandwell CouncilCllr Kerrie Carmichael, Leader of Sandwell Council
Cllr Kerrie Carmichael, Leader of Sandwell Council

What has Sandwell Council said about the review?

Cllr Kerrie Carmichael (Lab, Blackheath), who is leader of Sandwell council said: “I welcome this detailed and thorough review of our governance arrangements.

“The cabinet and I recognise that, while the auditors are satisfied that government intervention is not necessary, we must build on the improvements put in place by the new leadership team.

“We have demonstrated the progress that has already been made and, as the report recognises, we are already seeing green shoots in key areas.

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“We are fully committed to making the necessary improvements and will work hard to embed the positive changes that have been described in the report.

“We have been given a number of statutory and key recommendations as part of this governance review and these will form the basis for an action plan detailing the improvements we must make as an organisation.

“The report recognises there is a consensus that senior officers and members are in a stronger, more effective and constructive position than in the recent past.

“We will be relentless in focusing on improvements and will use this report as a baseline for the council’s future transformation.”

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A Labour councillor, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “Mistakes were made years ago and the councillors who are here now are still being punished for them.

“We need to stop kicking problems down the road. Face them head on and then move past it all. We can’t change the past, but we can work hard not to make mistakes by previous cabinets.

“I’m quite emotional about this. I just want to do my job and prioritise Sandwell and its residents. It’s hard to do that when people won’t try and move on.”

Kim Bromley-Derry,  interim chief executive at Sandwell council, added: “Significant improvements have already taken place, which has been recognised in this report

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“Along with the cabinet and the new leader of the council, the leadership team and I will not shy away from the work that is needed and we will be relentless in focusing on improvements.

“My absolute priority going forward will be embedding sustainable, robust processes and improvements that the council can continue to build on in the months and years to come.”

Has the government said anything about the review?

Nicola Richards MP, West Bromwich East, blasted the council for failing to deliver basic services expected by residents in West Bromwich, Friar Park and Great Barr.

Speaking at PMQ’s she said: “Mr Speaker, bins left uncollected, council tenants being forced to live in damp and cold homes, £22 million lost on the Providence Place land deal, and a £10 million overspend on SEND transport contracts, which were almost awarded to Labour councillors’ friends.

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“[And now] today, the council’s external auditors released a damning report that surprises none of us.

“Does the Prime Minister agree with me that 47 years of Labour control in Sandwell has done nothing but level down my constituency of West Bromwich East, and that my constituents in West Bromwich, Friar Park, and Great Barr deserve far better?”

The Prime Minister said: “Yes, I wholeheartedly agree with my honourable friend because the instinct of Labour councillors up and down this country is yet again to level down rather than level up.”

Mr Johnson went on to encourage the MP’s constituents to install a Labour-run council there “as soon as possible”, before correcting his mistake and concluded: “A Conservative council as soon as possible.”

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