Lesley Griffiths, Minister for Local Government and Government Business
Since 2011, audit and regulation inspection programmes in Wales have raised concerns at weaknesses in how Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council is run and have emphasised until these were addressed, it was unlikely the Council would sustain significant improvement. The Auditor General for Wales’ most recent Annual Improvement Report, published in April 2013, concluded the Council needed effective leadership, consistent management and delivery in order to be successful and secure the necessary improvements.
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. However, this action has not been sufficient. The Council is, therefore, unlikely to make the necessary arrangements to improve and achieve the scale and pace of change needed this financial year. The Auditor General for Wales’ Improvement Assessment Letter to Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council, issued today, makes clear leadership and decision making are still inconsistent and the Council has not introduced proposals to address its predicted financial pressures and varied service performance with sufficient urgency. There is also concern about the level and quality of information being received by elected Members to enable them to take informed and appropriate decisions.
In light of these conclusions, the Auditor General for Wales has made two statutory recommendations to the Council for them to address their financial planning, decision making and scrutiny arrangements. The letter also includes a recommendation for me to use my Ministerial powers (under Section 28 of the Local Government (Wales) Measure 2009) to provide short term support to the Council in order for it to remedy its problems, as soon as possible, as the Council does not have the capacity to take forward the actions necessary to address them. The Auditor General for Wales suggests this 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.
I have taken the recommendation from the Auditor General for Wales extremely seriously. It is evident from his detailed assessment the situation needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency. I am also pleased by the commitment of the Leader of Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council to address the Council’s difficulties by formally requesting support to help address the immediate financial difficulties and wider challenges it is facing.
I now intend to use my powers under Section 28 of the Measure to provide the Council with a formal package of support. I have not had to exercise these powers before. However, the nature of the recommendation from the Auditor General for Wales is not one I can ignore given the content of the Improvement Assessment Letter. My officials will now work with the Council to determine an appropriate package of support to address its immediate financial priorities and wider corporate capacity and sustainability issues.
Once this package of support has been agreed, I will make a further Statement to Assembly Members outlining the details and timescales for delivery.