South Ribble Council is in a “challenging place,” according to a review by the Local Government Association. Catherine Musgrove looks at where the authority is at now and what it must to do improve.
South Ribble Council, caught up in a taxi licensing scandal last year, has been hauled over the coals once again.
After an internal investigation last year highlighted “weak political and senior management leadership” and independent solicitors criticised a lack of structure, poor record keeping and IT problems, now the Local Government Association (LGA) has come up with a list of recommendations on how the organisation needs to improve.
It comes after a Corporate Peer Challenge was carried out, taking into account the period March 28 to 31 this year.
Peers, including leaders of other borough councils, concluded the council’s energy is “being drained in dealing with issues from the past”.
A key concern highlighted in the 17-page dossier regards a perceived lack of ambition and “clearly defined vision” for the council. It noted: “Some members and staff talking of a desire to ‘go back to the past’.”
It also states there is a “slow pace of implementation” for projects and “a lack of willingness by some senior members to take ownership of the improvement agenda and, in some cases, to even acknowledge the council needs to change”.
Planning issues are also criticised with regards to the council’s finances.
The council has projected it will have a gap in the revenue budget of £3.3m by 2019/20, with the review stating: “The council is carrying a significant financial risk” and “urgently needs a robust financial implementation plan for the short to medium term.”
It adds: “Currently the medium term financial strategy is founded on assumptions about strategic decisions which appear uncertain.”
It states that although participation in leisure activities through the council’s facilities has increased in the past 12 months, outsourced provision of around £1m per annum is not financially sustainable and “as a matter of urgency the council should consider the future provision on the leisure function.”
Echoing the council’s own scrutiny review over the taxi licensing issue of last year, which saw drivers given licences without proper checks, problems of leadership are highlighted.
The reviewers said: “This is a council which does not currently exhibit clear, strong or positive collective leadership. Whilst the council delivers many good services and has a high resident satisfaction, much of this is as a consequence of the strong operational performance of council staff - not the political leadership of the organisation.”
The behaviour of councillors is further criticised, with the report stating “considerable energy” is being expended on political tensions “which could be more productively employed in shaping and leading an ambitious future for South Ribble.
“Local residents deserve and should expect better from their local councillors.”
It adds that the role of scrutiny is not being harnessed to full capacity and the council is “behind the curve” in terms of the digital agenda.