Rotherham sparks call for sector-wide governance review

9 Feb 15

Town halls have been urged to review their governance arrangements in light of the damning report into failures at Rotherham Borough Council.

In a response to Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles’ plan to intervene in Rotherham, the Centre for Public Scrutiny said calls to scrap cabinet or mayoral systems in local government were premature. However, governance arrangements could be usefully re-evaluated to ensure they were working in the interests of local people.

Pickles announced his planned intervention following a report by Alexis Jay, a former chief social work adviser to the Scottish Government, found a variety of historic and serious child protection failings. After a further review by Louise Casey concluded the authority was not fit for purpose, Pickles announced five commissioners would be sent in to run the authority. It has until February 19 to respond to plans for commissioners are to be sent in to run all the executive functions.

Tim Gilling, acting executive director at the CfPS, said no council is immune from service failure, irrespective of its governance structure.

It was wrong to suggest that structural change automatically means better, more responsive and safer services, and councils should resist the temptation for such changes if the hope is that doing so will cause people to behave differently. Service and governance failures often result from a range of complex factors and it was likely that cultural change would be key to improvements, he said.

‘Whatever governance system a council operates, councillors need to have the confidence and ambition to question decisions, to hold the council’s performance to account and to drive improvements in the interests of local people.

‘Crucially they need to make sure they are able to hear the voices of local people and not rely only on performance management information generated by people that plan and deliver services.’

However, Gilling added that, following the governance failures identified in both the Jay report and by Robert Francis in his review into care at Mid Staffordshire hospitals, all authorities should review their scrutiny regimes.

‘Council scrutiny needs support from political leaders and managers to do this,’ he stated.

‘These principles should be at the heart of any system of governance whether committee system, cabinet and leader or elected mayor. We call on all councils to review their governance in the light of the Francis and Jay reports, if they have not already done so.’

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