Walsall leaders summoned to explain failings

Leaders of Walsall council were summoned by local government
minister Nick Raynsford to explain how they will address
“deep-seated failings“, following a damning Audit Commission
report, writes Jonathan Pearce.

The findings of the corporate governance inspection reveal that
there are significant weaknesses across the council. It is plagued
by financial problems, poor service delivery, lacks political
leadership, has poor internal and external communications, and
there are instances of unacceptable conduct on the part of
councillors, says the report.

Audit Commission controller Sir Andrew Foster said: “Walsall
Council has failed local people. The council has considerable
political and financial problems resulting in poorly run services
and wasted taxpayers’ money.

“Although the commission repeatedly highlighted these problems
during the inspection process and in earlier audit reports, we do
not believe the council fully accepts the gravity of the
situation,” he said.

The commission has set up a supervisory board to help the
council, comprising local government, finance and legal experts,
which is the first time such an approach has been used to deal with
a failing council.

The board will monitor the council’s implementation of an
improvement strategy, and could at any time advise the commission
to refer the council for statutory intervention by the

The main concerns raised by the report included the
council’s poor financial management, which goes from one
short-term crisis to another. Over-spending is uncontrolled with
unrealistic budgets set too late and serious inaccuracies in the
figures, says the report.

In addition, management and political roles are not sufficiently
defined and relationships between the two are not properly managed.
The council is weak at developing partnerships, and although there
are pockets of good practice in service delivery, this practice was
rarely extended across the council.

* It also understood that the council is currently
considering a draft of a highly critical Audit Commission report
into its social services department, which says the department kept
back the full extent of its financial deficit from the

Local government secretary Stephen Byers is expected to announce
£25 million funding to bail out Hackney council so that it can
meet the terms of a revised budget agreed last year, following
statutory directions issued under government intervention




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