The government intervention in Rotherham MBC will formally end this weekend after a review by commissioners found the leader and chief executive had re-established the council’s “moral compass”.
A report published yesterday praised the “strength and visibility” of leader Chris Read (Lab) and chief executive Sharon Kemp which provides “confidence that in future the council will make good choices which promote the safety and welfare of its residents”.
The team of commissioners, led by Dame Mary Ney, were sent to Rotherham after a report by Dame Louise Casey in 2015 found significant failings at the council contributed to at least 1,400 children being abused in the area over a 16-year period. Commissioners left Rotherham in September last year but continued to monitor the council.
Their report said the council’s senior management team were providing strong leadership with a “collegiate” approach to departmental collaboration which is “breaking down silos” in the council.
“The chief executive and the senior leadership team individually and collectively has a grip on the council’s performance, and there is improved and broader understanding of each other’s challenges within directorates, relating to both service delivery and finance,” commissioners said.
Working relationships between members and officers were described as good at all levels with “the right amount of appropriate challenge whilst not being cosy”.
The report said there was more work to be done to improve performance “across the board” but highlighted progress in children’s services, which were rated good for the first time since the sexual abuse scandal in January last year, adult social care, customer services and waste management.
“The council has made such progress that there is a palpable shift from an organisation that is ‘fixing things and fire-fighting‘ to one with confidence and is becoming a more outward facing, modern and innovative council,” commissioners said.
However, they added “there is no doubt” that delivering the council’s medium term financial plan is “particularly challenging”.
Rotherham overspent its children’s services budget by £15.7m and its adult social care budget by £5.6m in 2018-19. These overspends are additional to the requirement to address a budget gap of £30m over the next two years.
The council is also required to meet the cost pressures arising from Operation Stovewood, the National Crime Agency’s probe into child sexual abuse in the town, which in 2019-20 are expected to reach £7m.
The report says Rotherham has an “ongoing dialogue” with government departments on this cost burden, which the commissioners say they hope will lead to some financial assistance being provided to the council.
The report adds the delivery of plans for transforming services will be challenging, with “great care” needed to ensure children’s services are not ”destabilised”.
The commissioners said it was “notable” that children’s services savings are based on a reduction in the numbers of looked after children from 662 to 541 in 2021.
They added: “Whilst the delivery of the [medium term financial plan] is challenging, the review team were impressed by the shared resolve and determination of both members and officers to work together to achieve it.”
Ms Kemp said the review showed progress had surpassed commissioners’ expectations.
She added the council acknowledges the challenges identified with regard to the delivery of the medium term financial plan and the authority’s performance targets.
In a joint letter to Cllr Read and Ms Kemp, housing and communities secretary James Brokenshire and children and families minister Nadhim Zahawi said the review contained no evidence that suggests that the government should extend or replace its direction.
“We would like to take this opportunity to thank you both for your leadership, helping to transform Rotherham from a failing authority to one that is reinvigorated and fully autonomous,” the added.