A report of the Strategic Director of Finance, Governance and Support was presented which outlined findings from the recent government Best Value inspection of Northamptonshire County Council (NCC), which had received national media attention and would potentially result in local government reorganisation in that area.
The report compared the position in Middlesbrough Council with that of NCC and highlighted learning in order to support continued improvement in the Councils corporate governance arrangements. Further similar reports would be brought to the Corporate Affairs and Audit Committee throughout the year to provide information to ensure the Committee was provided with sufficient information to ensure it was able to keep the Councils arrangements for corporate governance under review, in line with its terms of reference.
In February 2018, NCCs Executive Director of Finance issued a Section 114 Notice to Members. This was the first time in twenty years that a Section 151 Officer had issued a notice.
In March 2018, the National Audit Office (NAO) published a report that highlighted the forecast reduction in funding from government to local government, excluding council tax, for 2010/11 to 2019/20 was 56.3%. In comparison, Middlesbrough Council forecast a reduction of 66.2% during the same period.
The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government commissioned a Best Value Inspection of the Authority. The inspection found that NCC failed to comply with its legal duty to achieve best value in the delivery of its services.
Middlesbrough Council Officers had analysed the NCC Best Value inspections report, assessed the Councils current performance in the same areas, and identified lessons that could be learnt. It was found that generally, Middlesbrough Councils position was demonstrably stronger than NCC, particularly around corporate governance.
Whilst Middlesbrough had experienced continuing pressures in Childrens Care, transformation activity to address this was underway and additional resources had been allocated to the Directorate in the Revenue Budget, Council Tax, Medium Term Financial Plan and Prudential Indicators 2018/2019 Report to Council of 7 March 2018. The Report to Council also provided an assessment of the adequacy of the Councils reserves and a recommendation from the Section 151 Officer to maintain a minimum reserve of £9.4 million over the medium term.
The analysis of the NCC position identified a number of areas in which Middlesbrough Council should undertake further work which included:
Continued improvement of demand forecasting within Adult Social Care and (in particular) Childrens Care, now linked to Change Programme 3.1.
Conclusion of the review of current utilisation of Public Health Grant and forecasting of future needed to provide assurance and to identify future commissioning priorities.
Development of medium-term Directorate Plans to demonstrate line of sight from the Strategic Plan to team level performance and communicate objectives to all employees.
Continued development of the Councils approach to Programme and Project Management, in particular developing business cases in respect of projects with purely or majority social value.
Development of overarching partnership arrangements linked to the Mayors Vision and Public Sector Reform, linked to the Social Regeneration Prospectus.
A review of local scrutiny arrangements in line with the Governments response to the recommendations of the Communities and Local Government Committee on the Effectiveness of Local Authority Overview and Scrutiny Committees.
Implementation of a new approach to complaints including quarterly management information and lessons learned reports.
It was confirmed that all of this work was currently underway or planned to be undertaken in 2018/2019. Where relevant, actions had been included in the Action Plan within the 2017/2018 Annual Governance Statement.
An issue was raised in relation to the application of the Councils Constitution in respect of recent examples of scrutiny and challenge by Elected Members. The Monitoring Officer confirmed that with regard to the issues raised by the Member, appropriate procedures had been followed in accordance with the Constitution.
AGREED that the report was received and noted.