On 22 March 2022, the then Minister for local government, my right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Kemi Badenoch), updated the House that the Secretary of State had decided to intervene in Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council and had appointed two commissioners. Those commissioners submitted their first report to the Secretary of State on 20 June 2022 as part of the objective of ensuring that the residents of Sandwell have, as the statement by my right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden indicated, what they need from their local council, including confidence in its governance and service delivery.
The first report provides an update on the work under way to make the authority functional again. The commissioners confirm that
“There are a lot of very tangible changes that need to be made in the council in the immediate term”
and that they
“are still at the early stages of this intervention”,
with a recognition that
“there are many challenges ahead.”
To do that, the report primarily focuses on two elements: first, the single improvement plan being implemented to address the issues raised in the reviews undertaken by Grant Thornton, the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy and the Local Government Association. Secondly, it provides a broader overview of the commissioners’ focus and early activities being undertaken as part of the long journey back from the unacceptable position into which the authority had fallen.
The report confirms that the authority has now adopted a single improvement plan which encompasses actions in relation to all of the recommendations in the aforementioned reviews. The commissioners have also provided the Secretary of State and me with a copy of that improvement plan. It has aggregated the many recommendations of those reviews, including a number which are serious and statutory. The commissioners have also developed twelve “proxies for success” which the commissioners intend to use to evaluate progress during this intervention period. Evaluation of those proxies will commence in future reports from the commissioners. In the meantime, the commissioners did point to a number of early indicators of welcome progress, including the arrival of new officers, the willingness of Sandwell’s cabinet and councillors to start to respond to the recommendations from the reviews and some very early signs of culture change. It is clear, however, that there is much more work to do, and any early indicators of progress must be sustained for a long period to give confidence of a real change in culture, behaviour, processes and governance.
The commissioners’ next report to the Secretary of State is expected in December 2022. A copy of the commissioners’ first report will be deposited in the Libraries of both Houses.