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The Audit Commission has published its corporate governance inspection report on Walsall MBC, and it provides a com...
The Audit Commission has published its corporate governance inspection report on Walsall MBC, and it provides a compelling portrait of a dysfunctional council.

Some of the report's findings so defy expectation they sound like jokes. For example, when facing a£10m budget shortfall, councillors raised their allowances by£300,000.

The Audit Commission asked which service the council was proudest of and was directed to housing benefit. Inspectors discovered its efficiency was down to the department's illegal operations.

Inspectors found councillors would rather debate the creation of Walsall MDC in 1974 than the needs of residents in 2001.

Bullying and councillors' refusal to delegate meant managers were unable to do their jobs and either left or went along with the prevailing bad practice.

Audit Commission controller Sir Andrew Foster conceded some of Walsall's difficulties stem from the fact it is divided into rich and poor areas and does not form a natural community.

But if the absence of a natural community justifies councillors' failure to provide leadership, every council would have an excuse.

Walsall's history shows how badly run it has been. It has managed to avoid tensions on the scale of Bradford City MDC, but comparisons can be made.

Like Bradford, different parts of the council were encouraged to feel they were competing with each other. For example, during the 1990s, Labour leader David Church decided to devolve power to 50 neighbourhood committees. The project was never completed - only 19 were set up in the poorer, predominantly Labour, part of the borough, stoking up resentment in the wealthy part.

The political environment in which these decisions are taken, the Audit Commission tells us, has been one of feuding and infighting.

The council is stagnating. Some councillors have served for four or five decades, while others with seven or eight years' service are still regarded as newcomers.

The Audit Commission has put in place a statutory board to monitor and advise the council.

If the board does not see improvements, it can refer it to the government for intervention.

The commission has promised it won't 'simply walk away', as it did from Hackney.

Let us hope this does not have any neo-imperial undertones, and does not turn into another unwanted form of intervention.

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