DCLG and councils should collaborate to avoid service failure, say MPs

18 Aug 16

The Department for Communities & Local Government has been urged to develop a closer relationship with councils to better mitigate the risks of service failures that led to Whitehall interventions in Rotherham and Tower Hamlets.

In a review of the interventions in the two authorities, the communities and local government committee said lessons must be learned to ensure children are protected, whistleblowers are taken seriously and scrutiny arrangements are robust.

The intervention in Tower Hamlets began in December 2014 following concerns that the authority was failing to comply with Best Value duties, while in Rotherham it began in February 2015 following a damning report into the authority’s governance, which highlighted historic and serious child protection failings. Both interventions are ongoing following recent reviews in both Tower Hamlets and Rotherham.

It is rare that DCLG has to intervene in a local authority, the report highlighted. When it does, the intervention must be swift, effective, clear in its aims, and transparent.

“DCLG must therefore learn lessons from what has worked well in the interventions in Rotherham and Tower Hamlets, and from what could have been improved,” it states. “Equally, lessons must be learned by DCLG, by the Local Government Association, and by local authorities across the country, about how to effectively monitor and mitigate the risk of financial, governance or service failure.”

Committee chair Clive Betts said it is widely agreed that the interventions in Tower Hamlets and Rotherham were justified because both local authorities had significantly failed to meet their responsibilities.

The aim in both cases is the return to normal democratic arrangements, and DCLG should examine what worked and what could have been done better with these interventions to make improvements for any possible future cases, he stated.

“It is also vital that the failings in Rotherham and Tower Hamlets and the work done to address them are identified and shared so that similar issues can be addressed in other local authorities at an early stage to avoid them hitting rock bottom and having commissioners imposed upon them,” he said.

“DCLG and the Local Government Association clearly have important roles to play in this, but local authorities must also take responsibility themselves for seeking out and sharing this best practice.”

As a result, the MPs called on DCLG to work with the LGA and local authorities across the country in learning lessons about how to monitor and mitigate the risks of further service failures.

In particular, the report highlights Rotherham’s experiences of child sexual exploitation and the progress made since in child protection. MPs said they were surprised to discover that neither the government nor any local authorities have contacted the council’s leader to ask how the borough was responding to the Jay report into child protection failings.

The interventions should highlight to councils the need to ensure that proper checks and balances and scrutiny arrangements are in place to drive a culture of transparency and continuous improvement, the review also concluded. Whitehall should consider additional oversight measures for councils exiting from interventions, such as the phased withdrawal of commissioners, assurances from external auditors or monitoring by other councils.

Responding to the report, a government spokesman said lessons have been learned from the interventions in Rotherham and Tower Hamlets, including making sure whistleblowers are taken seriously and supported and that interventions are quick and effective.

“Today’s select committee report shows the progress of the interventions to date, but we all recognise that there is more to do.

"We will continue to work with the Local Government Association and commissioners to monitor and mitigate against any possible failings, so they cannot be repeated elsewhere.”

 

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