the regions, today announced that the government is taking action to
safeguard frontline services, such as education and social services,
for the people of Hackney and to ensure the council tackles a legacy
Five government departments today issued draft Directions to the
council requiring service improvements in education, social services,
waste management, and housing benefits and tough action to get the
council's budget back in balance. The council has been given 14 days
to make representations to the government.
For the first time, ministers intend to use powers in the 1999 Local
Government Act to issue Directions to safeguard council services and
ensure best value for the public.
The five Directions would require the council to:
- produce a strategy for bringing their budget into balance and an
action plan for establishing a new system of financial management
within the authority;
- recruit key staff and address any lack of skill in procurement and
contract management in certain specified areas;
- produce proposals for a review of property and accommodation
- implement plans to establish a new body to deliver the education
service in the borough;
- submit proposals for carrying out best value reviews of services
for older people and mental health services in co-operation with
- clear the large backlog of outstanding housing benefit and council
tax benefit work by 31 December; and
- submit a plan for improving waste management services and
recycling, agree this with the secretary of state and then
In announcing the measures Stephen Byers secretary of state for local
'The government is simply not prepared to let the present situation
continue. It is unacceptable that people who live, or work in Hackney
should have to suffer poor services because of the council's
corporate failure. The package of measures the government is
announcing today is designed to protect and improve the key services
and ensure the council tackles its budget deficit.
'I have directed Hackney to produce a budget strategy to start the
process of getting them back into balance. My department will be
writing separately to the council about how they can continue to work
to return to financial stability, without the help of government
resources, at the earliest possible time. To assist, the council's
leadership has agreed to appoint an independent person to monitor
'It is now for Hackney's elected members and senior staff to ensure
that people in Hackney see very big changes. It will involve tough
decisions to tackle the years of failure and it will be painful but
the government is clear it must happen. Hackney Council cannot be
allowed to fail its people again.'
Alistair Darling, secretary of state for work and pensions said:
'Hackney's residents deserve a good quality benefits service, which
has been lacking for too long. No one should have to wait several
months for their housing and council tax benefit claims to be paid.
Poor service affects some of the most vulnerable people. It can also
affect the financial positions of Hackney's social and private
'I have therefore set Hackney a challenging direction to clear its
long-standing backlog of work by the end of this year. I shall expect
them to do this to acceptable standards and without detriment to
current and new work. My department is working closely with Hackney
and has supported them in rebuilding their benefits service. They
have made an encouraging start. The momentum must be maintained. We
shall continue to monitor the situation closely '
Estelle Morris secretary of state for education and skills said:
'This direction will enable Hackney to establish a new body to be
responsible for the management and delivery of education services in
the borough, so as to provide much needed financial and management
stability. We have already, with Hackney Council, appointed a joint
team to identify the optimum arrangements for the structure and role
of this new body. Once this team has reported at the end of September
we will support the local authority in swiftly putting in place new
arrangements, designed to promote and maintain high standards in
education for everyone in Hackney.'
Margaret Beckett secretary of state for environment, food and rural
'Hackney must improve their dismal recycling record and their poor
overall performance on waste collection services so that residents
get a quality service at a price they can afford. To make this happen
the council must secure the investment that this service desperately
needs, raise public awareness about the need for changes in the local
culture in the handling of waste, and ensure local people are able to
recycle their waste.'
Health minister Jacqui Smith said:
'It is vital for some of the most vulnerable people in Hackney that
social services continue to deliver and improve their services. This
direction will require Hackney Council to work with the local NHS to
review services for older people and mental health services to ensure
that they are delivering best value.
The social services inspectorate (SSI) has been working with Hackney.
We have seen some progress in social services and are keen to see
that this continues - so that the people of Hackney get the services
they need and deserve. We will maintain this support and monitor
1. The secretary of state for transport, local government and the
regions announced on 27 June that he was minded to use his powers
of intervention in Hackney under Part I of the Local Government Act
1999 (Best Value) subject to advice from the audit commission.
After thorough inspection and investigation by the audit
commission, it became clear that the council was in serious
financial difficulties and that essential frontline services were
2. In July, the audit commission's best value inspection service
published its report on corporate governance in Hackney. The report
concluded that the authority was in breach of its duty to provide
best value to service users under section 3 of the 1999 Act and
recommended that the secretary of state should use his intervention
powers to require the council to restore financial control and
accountability and improve the delivery of key services.
3. The Local Government Act 1999 gives the secretary of state a
wide range of intervention powers. For example, he may direct an
authority to do anything he considers is necessary or expedient to
secure its compliance with its statutory duties.