24th Sep, 2020

'Critical friends' praise council response to Section 24 debt alert

Correspondent 3rd Aug, 2020

REDDITCH Borough Council’s ‘solid response’ to a severe financial warning from its auditors has been highlighted in feedback from ‘critical friends’.

The authority volunteered to take part in a Peer Challenge from the Local Government Association which looked at the council’s leadership, governance, corporate capacity and financial resilience as well as local specific issues.

Cross-party members, partners, staff and the chief executive were interviewed by the peers to give them an insight into the council’s successes and areas for improvements.

The first visit was in 2018 when a report of recommendations were presented and in February a follow-up visit ensued out of which this latest report was delivered.

Last year the council received a Section 24 Notice from its auditors Grant Thornton, after losing thousands of pounds in Government grants, and which forced members to make difficult decisions on finances.

The report, which was delayed because of the global pandemic, said: “Substantial work has been done on identifying savings and clarifying the council’s approach to financial sustainability.”

On the subject of Financial planning and viability, with the Council’s new systems in place the peers are confident that, once embedded that this will promote “a strengthened culture of financial accountability”.

Improved monitoring of outcomes and a bottom-up approach to the authority’s ‘ambitious change programmes’ also being put in place were recognised.

Council Leader Matt Dormer said: “When we received the Section 24 Notice we had to make some tough decisions.

“We had to redirect our spending to services which we were directly responsible for delivering and consider lucrative moves which would see sustainable income, rather than a short term boost to coffers.

“I am really pleased this has been recognised in the feedback.

“Seeking feedback from ‘critical friends’ is invaluable for allowing us to pause and reflect on our journey so far and to enable us to continue in the right direction with confidence.

“When lockdown struck I believe we demonstrated our ability to act quickly, to make strong decisions at the height of an emergency situation and our flexibility and resilience came into play. A lot of the improvements we had planned came to fruition literally overnight and have already met some of the peer’s recommendations.

“I look forward to working with Council colleagues to further examine and action this report.”

The council’s work with the Support Redditch community group at the height of the pandemic was highlighted.

However the report called for better two-way internal communications, which the council has already stepped up, to with the enforced working from home, post lockdown.

As the Council is set to mark ten years, since it embarked on the Shared Services Project with Bromsgrove District Council, the feedback noted that: “There is now a stronger sense of a single workforce serving two councils at the senior officer level” and noted that “the councils now need to work to embed culture change from the bottom up to ensure all parts are engaged in moving towards a more dynamic and financially accountable culture”.

The report is available at redditchbc.gov.uk/peerfeedback

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