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Rotherham commissioners unveil improvement plan

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Control of Rotherham MBC could be returned to elected members by May 2017, under an improvement plan due to be discussed the council this afternoon.

The 47-page plan, drawn up by the commissioners appointed to run the authority earlier this year, sets out actions they say must be taken to improve performance at the troubled authority.

It includes a wide-ranging programme of training for staff and members, including in report writing, managing risk and having difficult conversations.

This is designed to address failings identified in the Louise Casey report, which found the council had a culture that lacked challenge and where staff avoided uncomfortable truths.

Published in February, the Casey report was commissioned by the government after a previous review identified up to 1,400 children had been victims of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham.

Director general of troubled families Ms Casey identified a “corporate failure” by the council and highlighted numerous missed opportunities to tackle the problem.

In response, the then communities secretary Eric Pickles appointed five commissioners to oversee running of the council in one of the most far reaching local government interventions of recent years that sees executive members stripped of their decision making powers.

While the commissioners have been appointed until 2019, the plan focuses on the period between 2015 and 2017.

The plan says that although it is “inevitable” some improvements and the “culture change” required will take longer to embed, “the commissioners view is that within two years, the core building blocks and leadership should be in place to ensure that the drive for improvement started by the commissioners can be then sustained by the council’s own democratic and officer structures”.

This year, 2015-16, has been identified as a ‘transition year’ ahead of the first all-out whole council elections in May 2016.

Stella Manzie, the commissioner responsible for the day-to-day running of the council, told LGC the “thrust of the plan” was making the council more corporate to support “the endeavours in children’s services and tackling child sexual exploitation”.

She said a key focus would be “making sure there’s a common understanding [among staff] of what led to the council being in the position it is currently in and what needs to change”.

“The only way you can change culture is by actually doing things differently,” she added.

“That’s why a key priority is making sure we make permanent appointments so you can then have a stable senior management base that leads the authority and models the appropriate behaviour,” she said.

Ms Manzie said commissioners were considering starting a recruitment process for a chief executive in the autumn, but a final decision had not yet been taken.  

She said other early priorities would be developing a new corporate performance framework, giving elected members the material to judge how the council was doing, a more strategic medium-term financial strategy and improving partnership relationships with South Yorkshire Police and others.

The council will also develop an ‘excellence index’ of performance indicators to help drive improvements.

“In some parts of the council, not in all… the council has lost sight of what high standards are, what high quality is and what good looks like.

“What we are trying to do with staff with senior colleagues and elected members are ensure people are focused on doing things that really excellent and outstanding.”


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