Commissioners report ‘considerable progress’ at Sandwell Council

The Government has published a report by the commissioners appointed to support Sandwell Council which shows ‘considerable progress’.

The report was submitted to the Secretary of State in December with Lee Rowley MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, publishing his formal response.

The commissioners were appointed by the government in March 2022. This is the second report the commissioners have submitted providing a formal update on progress nine months into the period of intervention.

At the time of the report being submitted in December, Kim Bromley-Derry was Managing Director at Sandwell and Jim Taylor, the Best Value Commissioner. The report praises the council for requesting follow-up visits from auditors and notes “this is no longer a council shying away from scrutiny or unprepared to listen and learn but a council demonstrating self-awareness and a maturity that was previously absent."

The appointment of Shokat Lal, Sandwell’s new permanent Chief Executive, one of the statutory requirements noted in the government’s improvement notice, has been seen as an excellent and positive appointment.

It now means Kim Bromley Derry has become Lead Commissioner at Sandwell with responsibilities for the day-to-day running of the council passing to Shokat. The work the council has undertaken to help residents during the cost of living crisis was mentioned throughout the report noting the positive, collaborative work the council and the cabinet has undertaken to support Sandwell residents.

Sandwell Council’s financial resilience was commended despite the backdrop of significant pressures all local authorities are faced with. Since the commissioners’ report was submitted, external auditors CIPFA reviewed Sandwell’s progress in the way it manages its finances. Sandwell’s rating has been upgraded from two to three stars out of a possible five.

This has been acknowledged in an addendum to the report submitted by commissioners in January 2023. In his letter in response to the commissioners’ second report, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Local Government and Building Safety Lee Rowley MP, said:

“I recognise the progress since June and that the Council is now better placed to tackle the complex, long-term challenges it still faces. However, the progress against your proxies for success confirm that there remains a lot to be done in Sandwell.

“I note your priorities for the coming months include much needed work on the customer journey and culture within the Council, and that your assessment tallies with that of the follow-up reviews by Grant Thornton, the Local Government Association and the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy.”

During the commissioners reporting period of June to December 2022, the council was faced with difficult decisions including the decision to develop the site at Brandhall for housing and a school – a decision for which the call-in process has seen the decision reaffirmed – the SEND transport contract, Sandwell land and property and the Sandwell Leisure Trust contract.

Commissioners report that these decisions were “based on clear evidence and with a transparency and reasoning which was previously lacking”.

Sandwell Council has implemented an improvement plan which details actions that are needed to make services better. Progress is tightly monitored and reported on regularly with areas of weakness highlighted to ensure efforts are concentrated correctly.

The latest progress update was presented to Sandwell’s Cabinet on 15 March by Councillor Kerrie Carmichael, Leader of Sandwell Council. On receipt of the Commissioners’ report and the response from Lee Rowley MP, Councillor Carmichael said:

“The latest report and the comments from the minister recognise the significant progress we have made. “I have been delighted to welcome Shokat to Sandwell as our permanent Chief Executive and look forward to working with him.

“It’s really encouraging to see our progress in financial management from a progressive two-star authority to a three-star authority in such a short space of time. “We are not shying away from the hard work and difficult decisions that lie ahead. We will continue to improve the way we work and ensure these changes are embedded and sustainable.

“I want to thank our council officers for everything they are doing. We know this is hard work, and I know I speak for all of Cabinet when I say that we are completely committed to building on the improvements we have already seen.”

While significant progress has been noted by Sandwell Council, there is acknowledgement that there is still more to be done with the focus in the coming months including improvements to the customer service that is delivered to its residents.

The commissioners will submit their next report to government in June 2023.


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