The lead commissioner at Rotherham MBC has called on Whitehall to loosen financial constraints on the authority as it struggles to cope with the cost of improving its children’s services.
Sir Derek Myers, the former chief executive of Kensington and Chelsea RBC and Hammersmith & Fulham LBC, said the authority needed funding “flexibilities” as it entered a “crucial” six months of its improvement programme.
Writing in an exclusive comment piece for LGC, Sir Derek said Rotherham had already initiated talks with officials to arrange a “long-term” funding agreement.
Sir Derek was among a group of commissioners appointed to Rotherham after a government review of the council’s governance and children and young people’s services found they were “not fit for purpose” this year.
That highly critical assessment followed a previous report into child exploitation at the council by Professor Alexis Jay in August 2014, which found that 1,400 children had been abused in the town between 1997 and 2013.
Sir Derek said there had been “demonstrable progress” in services since the commissioners began work but that progress was unsure while the authority was “drastically reducing its budget”.
According to Rotherham’s papers, the authority plans £23m savings this year from a net revenue budget of £203.5m.
Planned savings for the three years between 2016-16 and 2018-19 – currently set at £41m – could, however, rise to £59m over the same period, according to a report for the council’s overview and scrutiny committee last month.
This report says the predicted increase was “predominantly” down to financial pressures within children’s social care services.
Sir Derek said the “huge” job of the improvement programme left Rotherham facing a financial challenge.
“All public services face variations on this but Rotherham’s circumstances are different,” he said.
“The gap between where children’s services were and where they needed to be was huge,” he added.
“Closing the gap will mean long-term money and demand is unrelenting. [The] financial consequence doubles the budget gap over any other comparable unitary authority.”
Sir Derek added: “That is why we are in discussion with the government, not for a bailout, but for some flexibility that will enable the council to deliver for children without wrecking everything else.
“We fully expect the government to understand the need to assist, while ensuring there are no rewards for failure.”
Sir Derek said Rotherham was “entering a critical six months” as the council sought to appoint a chief executive and two chief officers, as well as five other senior appointments.