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Commissioner intervention uncertainty at Nottingham City Council as Government left in tatters

today7 July 2022 7

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Doubt has been cast over what will now happen at Nottingham City Council where further Government intervention was planned amid Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s resignation. The department tasked with overseeing the Labour-led authority has been thrown into disarray following a spate of resignations.

On Thursday, July 7 the city council had to submit its own letter of representation after then-minister of state for local Government, Kemi Badenoch, wrote to the authority informing it the Government is “minded” to take further action upon the discovery of more significant historic financial failings. These failings concerned the Housing Revenue Account (HRA), from which up to £40m was wrongly spent on other council services rather than council tenants.

The city council had already been under intense scrutiny from a Government-appointed improvement board following the collapse of Robin Hood Energy and patience had been wearing thin as more failures came to light. In a statement made by Ms Badenoch the Government said: “The reports paint a deeply concerning picture of serious historic financial and governance failings.

READ MORE: Nottingham’s City Council leader is still blaming the Conservatives as commissioners are ‘sent in’

“In light of this evidence, the Secretary of State is satisfied that Nottingham City Council is failing to comply with its best value duty, and is minded to implement the intervention package set out below to secure compliance with that duty.”

The next phase of intervention concerns the deployment of commissioners, non-elected officials who charge up to £1,200 per day. Such intervention has before been seen in Liverpool, Slough and Northants.

However the same week the council was due to send in its own letter of representation to the Conservative-led Government, the Prime Minister’s leadership began to diminish further and his ministers resigned en masse. Ms Badenoch resigned on July 6 stating the Government could “not function” under Mr Johnson and then, in yet another twist, the secretary of state overseeing decisions relating to the council’s operations, Michael Gove, was then sacked.

Mr Gove had been the secretary of state for levelling up, housing and communities (formerly local government) before he spoke out against Mr Johnson and was sacked and replaced by Greg Clarke, MP for Tunbridge Wells. The Government has thus been left in tatters and Mr Johnson has now officially resigned as Conservative Party leader.

This throws considerable doubt over what exactly lies ahead for the city council and any further intervention from the Conservative Government. In a brief conversation with Nottinghamshire Live council leader and Dales ward councillor, David Mellen, expressed he was miffed over the situation but his letter of representation has, nonetheless, been sent in by the deadline of July 7.

The letter has been sent to Max Soule, deputy director of local government stewardship at the department. It states: “We have understood that the seriousness of the issues and the need for improvement was not centred on a narrow technical issue of an individual company, but on the underlying way that we do things and we have sought to do this in an open and transparent way.

“Together for Nottingham is our overarching improvement programme, which has benefitted from the input, support and challenge from our Improvement and Assurance Board (IAB), chaired by Sir Tony Redmond. Solid progress has been made including the development and adoption of a four-year Medium Term Financial Plan, improved governance and decision making supported by greater clarity around member officer relationships, together with positive progress being made on our large scale transformation and improvement programmes.

“Whilst acknowledging there is more to do these significant achievements have been acknowledged by the IAB. We believe that the current support arrangements in place through the IAB are working well and it would be the council’s preference that these arrangements remain in place.”

One of the turning points for the push for further intervention was the uncovering of the issues surrounding the HRA. It was understood the chairman of the improvement board, Sir Tony Redmond, had seen it as concerning and, in a statement from the Government, he was revealed to be the lead commissioner should they be appointed.

This too has been addressed by the council and the letter reveals it has “a strengthened reserves position” which has allowed the council to identify “an appropriate funding strategy to repay the HRA”. The letter, signed by councillor Mellen and council chief executive Mel Barrett, adds: “In the event that government decides to appoint Commissioners to oversee the authority, the council would be supportive of Sir Tony Redmond being appointed Lead Commissioner for the reasons set out in your letter.”

Questions do remain however how the turmoil within Government will impact on the council’s situation. The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has been contacted for comment.

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Written by: thehitnetwork

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