Communities Secretary issues directions returning limited powers to Rotherham

The Communities Secretary has issued directions returning some functions – including legal and democratic services –  to Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council.

However, Greg Clark said more progress was needed before powers in relation to licensing, children’s social care (including all services relating to child sexual exploitation), adult social care, and audit were returned.

These services will continue to be overseen by the commissioners sent in by the Government in February 2015 to exercise all executive functions and some non-executive functions at the council. This followed damning reports by Louise Casey and Alexis Jay into the authority’s failings.

The powers being returned to councillors by the Communities Secretary under s. 15 of the Local Government Act 1999 are:

  • education and schools; education for 14 to 19 years in all settings; school admissions and appeal system; youth services;
  • public health;
  • leisure services; events in parks and green spaces;
  • customer and cultural services, libraries, arts, customer services and welfare programmes;
  • housing;
  • planning and transportation policy; highways maintenance;
  • the council’s area assembly system and neighbourhood working; responsibilities under the Equalities Act;
  • building regulation, drainage, car parking; business regulation and enforcement (not including licensing); emergency planning;
  • financial services, including revenues and benefits (not including audit), ICT; legal and democratic services; corporate communications; corporate policy; procurement;
  • policy arising from Sheffield City Region.

The decision to return powers was taken following a recommendation last month from the Lead Commissioner, Sir Derek Myers.

The Communities Secretary said: “The failings at Rotherham council were a shocking dereliction of care that should never be repeated.

“The improvements that have been made mean it is now appropriate for councillors to take back control over some functions – a step towards a stronger future for Rotherham council and the community it serves.

“But let me be clear – there are still significant challenges that must be overcome before local people can have confidence in their council once again.”

Sir Derek Myers said: “A large number of improvements have been made to services over the past year, supported by the Advisory Cabinet, and the new management team in Rotherham is taking shape with a new chief executive now in place. The significance of these changes is not to be underestimated.

“Before we hand back further powers, we need to be absolutely certain that councillors are fully prepared, services are stable, and that the council has the public’s confidence. Whist the pace of improvement has been good, there is much more to do in some areas.

“At this time we don’t propose to hand back those services which we know still need improvement, including children’s social care. Although further progress is both necessary and expected, a good start has been made, and I would like to commend the staff of the council and members for their continuing efforts and their positive commitment to work with commissioners in the public interest.”

Council Leader Cllr Chris Read said the minister's announcement was an important step towards returning local democracy to Rotherham.

He added: "Councillors and the executive team have been working closely with the Commissioners over the last year, and this decision reflects the confidence Commissioners have that these services are operating effectively and are being well led by officers and councillors.

"Dramatic change was needed in Rotherham, but the council today is a different organisation to what it was two years ago. However there is no room for complacency. We have plenty more work to do and we must stay the course now to ensure that local residents have the council that they deserve."

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