Powers set to return to Rotherham Council

Rotherham Council has taken the first steps out of "special measures"
Rotherham Council has taken the first steps out of "special measures"
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ROTHERHAM Council leader Chris Read has warned it will take years to get back to normality despite the Government handing key powers back to the authority.

Coun Read welcomed the Government’s move to return control over areas such as schools, plannng, leisure and housing to councillors but said signficant challenges remained.

It may take a long time for us to get all the way back to normality but this is a big important first step.

Rotherham Council leader Chris Read

The commissioners sent in to run the council last year in the wake of two highly critical reports will retain control in other areas including children’s services.

The council’s failings in children’s services was the focus of the 2014 report by professor Alexis Jay which found the authority had failed to protect more than 1,400 children from abuse.

A later Government inspection found broader council failings leading to commissioners being appointed.

Coun Read, who became council leader in the aftermath of the two reports, said the authority was making “steady progress” in improving children’s services with the help of 65 extra social workers.

But many of those are agency workers adding a significant financial burden to the authority.

He said: “Particularly with austerity being what it is you can’t keep doing that indefinitely.

“We need to make sure that the practise amongst our social workers and with our managers is right and that it is embedded and then over the next two or three years you can start to level out the finances and put it in a more sustainable position.

“That’s a much bigger challenge than simply recruiting lots of people very quickly.”

Coun Read said last year’s report by Government inspector Louise Casey, which triggered the intervention, had made clear that problems were not confined to children’s services and the council was failing in a number of areas.

He said: “The damage done to the council not just in children’s services but in lost of other parts of the organisation was severe.

“What gives me confidence is they’ve put in a team of commissioners highly respected in the local government world who are now confident enough in us to say they think we can start this transition back to normality.

“It may take a long time for us to get all the way back to normality but this is a big important first step.”

Local Government Secretary Greg Clark set out plans to return powers in 11 areas which should be confirmed next month following a consultation period.

Mr Clark said: “Louise Casey’s report into Rotherham council made shocking reading – we must do everything we can to prevent those failings ever being repeated.

“In the last 11 months, Rotherham has made improvements and so I have proposed to transfer control over some functions back from the commissioners to democratically-elected councillors.

“But it’s clear there are still significant challenges to overcome before the council can fully regain the public’s confidence and trust, and so it is right that Sir Derek Myers and his team remain in place.”

Sir Derek, the lead commissioner at Rotherham Council, had recommended the return of some powers.

He said: “While we clearly acknowledge that there is further work to do in some areas if we are to rebuild trust and confidence in the way services are managed and delivered, we would see the restoration of at least some powers as a significant step in the right direction.”