Lesley Griffiths, Minister for Local Government and Government Business
Since 2011, audit and regulation inspection programmes in Wales have raised concerns at how Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council is run and have emphasised until these were addressed, it would be unlikely the Council would sustain significant improvement. The most recent improvement assessment work carried out by the Wales Audit Office has shown that since May 2012, the Council has been working to make progress to address the significant challenges it faces.
On 2 October, the Auditor General for Wales issued his Improvement Assessment Letter to Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council and concluded leadership and decision-making within the Authority needed additional support and the Council’s proposals to address its predicted financial pressures and varied service performance were not sufficiently developed. In light of these conclusions, the Auditor General made two statutory recommendations to the Council for them to address their financial planning, decision-making and scrutiny arrangements.
The letter also recommended I use my Ministerial powers (under Section 28 of the Local Government (Wales) Measure 2009) to provide short-term support to the Council to help it to remedy its problems, as soon as possible. In my Written Statement of 2 October, I announced my intention to use these powers to provide the Council with a formal package of support to build on the improvement work already being undertaken by the Council and will help to instil and embed progress made to date.
My officials have been working with the Wales Audit Office and the Council to determine the terms of reference and timescales for delivery of the support. I am pleased with the cooperation and engagement demonstrated by the Council so far in working with us to determine the details of the package of support. I am confident this will ensure the Council has the best possible opportunity to manage its own recovery and put itself in a more sustainable position for the future.
The Auditor General for Wales suggested the support should be in the form of suitably skilled and experienced external support to enable the Council to take prompt and significant action in the areas identified. The Council has also provided its views on what would be helpful in addressing the concerns identified by the Wales Audit Office. I am pleased to announce, in conjunction with the Welsh Local Government Association, we have secured the expertise of a team of external advisers to work alongside the Council. The team will provide support, challenge and advice to the senior management team and will be specifically focusing on the areas of short- term budget management and longer term financial planning; programme management and delivery. I have also asked my officials to work with the Council to put in place a programme to address the concerns raised by the Auditor General for Wales on the existing scrutiny arrangements.
The advisers are as follows:-
- Sir Peter Rogers, former Chief Executive of Westminster City Council
- John Shultz, former Chief Executive of Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council
- John Maitland-Evans, former Chief Executive of Vale of Glamorgan County Council
- Derek Davies, former Director of Finance and Corporate Services, Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council
A further adviser, Mr Carl Walters, has also been appointed as part of the support team to provide expertise and skills on programme management and delivery and on managing and implementing major change. Mr Walters has been provided as part of our on-going partnership with South Wales Police. Some of the advisers have already worked with the Council on specific matters, so we are retaining the knowledge and insight they have acquired from such work and balancing it with independent and objective challenge from others who have no prior involvement with the Council. The Council has been informed and is content with our proposed approach. The Advisers are purely advisory and have no authority to take decisions or to approve, amend or veto decisions of the Council, its members and officers. They do not represent their current or past employers, or other organisations with which they are or have been associated, in any way.
It has been necessary to issue this Statement during recess as the advisers will begin their work on 4 November and the expectation is the support period will come to a close by the end of January 2014. At this time, it is hoped the package of support will have placed the Council in a strong position to address its short-term financial challenges for 2013-14 and will have supported it to have taken key decisions on setting a balanced budget for 2014-15. The Council will also have been supported to develop a single Transformational Change Plan setting out its priorities for delivery in the medium term (up to three years).
I am also ensuring the package of support I am providing is fully aligned with the existing intervention provided by the Minister of Education and Skills regarding the Education Services in Blaenau Gwent.