Doncaster Council is facing government intervention as the result of its “deep-seated culture of poor governance”, following a report by the Audit Commission into the council’s fitness-for-purpose.
The commission said Doncaster was failing in its legal obligations to make arrangements to secure continuous improvement.
Communities Secretary John Denham said: “The Audit Commission’s report on Doncaster Council shows the severity of the problems in the local authority across the board and concludes that the local authority is failing the people of Doncaster, not just on one service or issue but in the very way it operates.
“I am immediately establishing an emergency advisory board chaired by Rob Whiteman and involving other senior colleagues with relevant experience, so that if urgent decisions are needed at the council, it can provide clear leadership and support to the acting chief executive. I will not hesitate, if necessary, to use my power of direction to enable me, in consultation with the board, to take further action.”
According to the report, the handling of the Edlington case, in which two young boys assaulted two other young boys, was a tipping point.
The report said: “This corporate governance inspection was undertaken because of repeated evidence, over more than 15 years that the council is not well run. Until the recent ministerial intervention in children’s services, the council had been successful in deflecting all previous attempts to address its problems, whilst allowing poor and failing services to continue.”
The Audit Commission said that despite the creation of an independently chaired improvement board in April 2009, Doncaster had struggled to improve children’s services. It said this was in part due to ongoing political antagonisms within the council and the failure of the council to see the issues as relating to all council services, not just children’s.
Doncaster’s Safeguarding Children’s Board was also slammed as “exhibiting serious failings”.
Budgets within children’s services were problematic. “Savings proposals in children’s services have not been discussed with partners and staff are unclear what the proposals mean for their posts. There is no reference in the children’s services directorate budget to the planned reduction, by one-third, in the use of external out-of-borough placements for children and young people,” the report stated.
Workforce issues in children’s services were also highlighted, with high turnover rates and a lack of communication between management and frontline staff.
The commission did, however, praise Doncaster’s new director of children’s services, Chris Pratt, who, it said, had “considerable personal credibility and a clear sense of how much, and how far, the children’s service still had to improve.”