Blaenau Gwent escapes takover
|BLAENAU Gwent council has escaped being taken into special measures after a watchdog investigation found improvements have been made in the overall running of the authority.
However, the report by the Wales Audit Office out today reveals that although there has been some progress towards tackling key issues such as decision making, developing ways to engage with the public and working with other partners to improve social services and support to vulnerable people, unless inconsistencies and weaknesses in how the council is run are addressed, it is unlikely that the council will sustain significant improvement.
In July the Argus exclusively revealed howthe Audit Office launched a probe into the overall running of the authority after a damning Estyn inspection revealed shocking levels of pupil performance.
After the council was stripped of its executive powers over education, it was feared the council could be taken over by Assembly-appointed commissioners, as happened to Anglesey Council.
However the council has worked hard to turn around its fortunes which is recognised in the report, which praises the difficult decisions made in successfully transferring its housing stock to social landlord Tai Calon, modernising its care of the elderly and improving its education provision with the new £51 million school and sixth form campus at The Works, Ebbw Vale.
Independent and Labour councillors have also joined forces in a bid to bring political stability.
But the report is critical of weaknesses in the collective leadership and says some attitudes and behaviours are continuing to hold the council back.
In particular the report says that council business has been disrupted by parochialism, in-fighting and tactics intended to dominate meetings and stop the council working.
It also says systems set up to run the council are not consistently effective and although arrangements are in place to manage project and performance, they are not used consistently and effectively.
Leader John Mason said: “This report does not recommend any intervention into the running of the council at this time, and also recognises the tough decisions we have already made in order to do better.
“We know more must be done and we are working to address some inconsistencies and weaknesses that have been set out.
“The recent coming together of elected members under newpolitical management arrangements is a crucial step forward, and this commitment to work together means we can deliver an effective response to the report and secure the continuous improvements which will strengthen overall governance at the council.”
The council nowhas 30 days to respond to the recommendations of improvement.
|COUNCIL bosses are determined to build on the positive outcomes of its latest watchdog inspection report and tackle report criticism head on.
As reported in yesterday’s Argus, Blaenau Gwent Council escaped being taken into special measures after the Wales Audit Office investigation found improvements have been made in the overall running of the authority
However, the report revealed that although there has been some progress towards tackling key issues such as decisionmaking, developing ways to engage with the public and working with other partners to improve social services and support to vulnerable people, unless inconsistencies and weaknesses in how the council is run are addressed, it is unlikely that the council will sustain significant improvement.
The WAO told the council it must come up with an action plan on how to tackle these underlying issues and respond to the report within 30 days.
One of the main criticisms is inconsistency that exists in effectively managing projects and performance.
Chief executive Dave Waggett explained that although they accept those findings, part of the issue is that they have not effectively identified their key priorities
“In areas we have identified as our key priorities we have seen significant improvement, however, we needed to set out what is important to us and explain clearly why we have invested so much time in these areas.”
Chief people and performance officer Mark McIntyre said the report shows that the council has the people and expertise for improvement, but these improvements need to be across the board and that is now the focus.
Other key failings in the investigation relate to the political instability within the council.
Leader John Mason said that the new executive is fully committed to putting its political differences aside for the good of the authority.
“We are working collectively for the future of this council.
This is an opportunity that we cannot miss.”
Past ‘misinformation’ investigated and bullying culture revealed
THE WAO report picked up on several issues as reported in the Argus.
Weaknesses in arrangements that support effective decision-making referred to the previous WAO investigation of former leader Des Hillman and former chief executive Robin Morrisons. They were investigated after allegations they misinformed councillors by telling them a senior council officer had suffered a heart attack when he hadn’t, which resulted in members backing the officer’s £300,000 redundancy
Although the decision was reasonable and lawful, he found the processes and actions that underpinned the decision were significantly flawed.
The report also mentions the suspension of a councillor in 2009, Nigel Daniels, found to have intimidated and acted inappropriately towards a council officer. The ensuing review revealed there was a culture of bullying at the council in July 2011