COMMONS

Government and LAs must learn from Rotherham and Tower Hamlets interventions

19 August 2016

Lessons must be learnt by Government and local authorities (LAs) from the imposition of Commissioners in Tower Hamlets and Rotherham to ensure that children are protected, whistleblowers are taken seriously and scrutiny arrangements are robust, the Communities and Local Government Committee concludes in its report.

Report findings

Interventions in Tower Hamlets and Rotherham

The report states that the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) must look at what worked and what could have been improved in these cases to ensure any future interventions are swift, effective, clear in their aims and transparent.

The DCLG must also work with the Local Government Association (LGA) and local authorities across the country in learning lessons about how to monitor and mitigate the risks of the sort of failings seen in East London and South Yorkshire with the aim of avoiding the need for interventions elsewhere.

Child protection

In particular, the report highlights Rotherham's experiences of child sexual exploitation and the progress made since in child protection. But the Committee says it was surprised to hear that neither the Government nor any local authorities have contacted the council leader, Chris Read, to ask how the borough was responding to the Jay report recommendations.

Whistleblowers

The report also points to the past failures of Rotherham and Tower Hamlets to take whistleblowers seriously. The Committee urges local authorities to encourage and support those who come forward and to investigate their concerns, and urgently calls on the Government to take necessary legislative action to ensure whistleblowers who approach Commissioners have legal protection.

Scrutiny arrangements

Furthermore, the interventions should press upon local authorities the need to ensure that proper checks and balances and scrutiny arrangements are in place to drive a culture of transparency and continuous improvement. The report identifies Tower Hamlets as having had a particular problem and recommends other councils learn from its progress on these issues.

Taxi licensing

The report also flags a damaging and significant legal loophole, which allows taxis licensed by other local authorities to operate within Rotherham, even if the drivers have had their application for a Rotherham licence rejected. In Rotherham, this means drivers are operating in the borough without meeting the council's recently-imposed requirement for taxis to be fitted with CCTV, for example.

The Committee calls on the DCLG, Home Office and Department for Transport to introduce statutory guidance without delay to ensure consistently high standards in taxi licensing across the country and enable local authorities to put in place and enforce specific measures which are appropriate for their circumstances. If guidance is not able to achieve this, the Government should consider legislation.

Key facts

The Committee finds:

  • Intervention by Government must be proportionate to the local authority's failings
  • When appointing a Commissioner, consideration should be given to the value they place on local democracy, and the local authority and LGA should be consulted
  • DCLG should report at the end of each intervention and include the lessons learned or best practice to be shared
  • Local authorities in receipt of interventions should be responsible for bearing the costs, which should be made public
  • Commissioners should seek to mirror normal scrutiny arrangements within a local authority as far as appropriate
  • DCLG should consider additional oversight measures for councils exiting from interventions, such as the phased withdrawal of Commissioners, assurances from external auditors or monitoring by other councils, for example

Chair's comments

Clive Betts MP, Chair of the Communities and Local Government Committee, said:

"It is widely agreed that the interventions in Tower Hamlets and Rotherham were justified because both local authorities had significantly failed to meet their responsibilities with regards to high standards of service, governance and democratic accountability.

The aim in both cases is the return to normal democratic arrangements, but if the interventions are ultimately to be effective, then they must result in sustainable improvements, which in the view of the Committee can only be achieved through changes in their organisational culture.

The Department for Communities and Local Government must carefully examine what worked and what could have been done better with these interventions so that the process can be improved for possible future cases.

It is also vital that the failings in Rotherham and Tower Hamlets and the work done to address them are identified and shared so that similar issues can be addressed in other local authorities at an early stage to avoid them hitting rock bottom and having Commissioners imposed upon them. The DCLG and LGA clearly have important role to play in this, but local authorities must also take responsibility themselves for seeking out and sharing this best practice."

Background

  • The Committee launched its inquiry in May 2016. It received more than 15 written submissions of evidence and held two public hearings. Written evidence and transcripts of the hearings are available on the inquiry publications page.
  • The intervention in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets followed an independent best value report by Pricewaterhouse Cooper, commissioned by the then Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to investigate "a worrying and divisive community politics and alleged mismanagement of public money by the Mayoral administration".
  • Commissioners in Tower Hamlets took over responsibility for grant-making, approval of sale or disposal of property and council publicity. The Commissioners are expected to remain in place until 31 March 2017.
  • In February 2015, the then Secretary of State imposed Commissioners in Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council on the basis of Professor Alexis Jay's report on child exploitation and Dame Louise Casey's best value inspection.
  • Commissioners in Rotherham took over the council's executive functions and were told to institute a "rapid improvement programme". The intervention is scheduled to end by 2019.

Further information

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