External auditors report statutory recommendations “can now be lifted” at Sandwell Council

Sandwell Council’s external auditors are “satisfied that the Council has

made appropriate progress against the three statutory recommendations, and these can now be lifted.” Grant Thornton

carried out a Value for Money Governance Review in late Autumn 2021 which made three statutory recommendations. An initial follow-up review took place in Autumn 2022 and a second follow-up review carried out in Autumn 2023 to assess progress. In June 2022, the council approved a single improvement plan that brought together the council’s planned actions in response to the recommendations made in the Value for Money Governance Review, and other external reviews. Grant Thornton’s findings and the lifting of the statutory recommendations represents a significant milestone in the council’s improvement journey towards coming out of government intervention. The Leader of Sandwell Council, Councillor Kerrie Carmichael, said: “The feedback from our external auditors and the lifting of the three statutory recommendations is very positive and is further evidence the council is continuing to improve. “From the outset of this process we accepted that we needed to make significant improvements. Our focus since the Governance Review has been to make sure that we are set up to deliver the best possible outcomes for our residents, and that has meant changing the way we operate. “There has been a huge amount of work to get us to this point. We are not just aiming to be good enough to get out of intervention but are striving for excellence. I want to thank council officers for their efforts and the Commissioners for the constructive way in which they have approached their role.” This latest positive step for Sandwell Council follows on from the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Simon Hoare MP, praising Sandwell Council during a debate last month. Speaking in a parliamentary debate on the governance of Sandwell Council, he said: “I want to pay tribute to the current leadership of Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council. “[…] significant improvements have been made, which have allowed the commissioners to continue to refer, in their published reports to the Department, to clear trajectories of improvement. “That means not just improvements in the output of service to those who are most in need, but a significant step change in the way in which the council has ordered and organised itself and its approach to governance.” Government intervention at Sandwell Council started on 22 March 2022. The Minister went on to describe what will happen when intervention ends. He continued: “When the position of the commissioners ceases—and we will be looking to that in due course—the Local Government Association will continue to work with the council to ensure that that path of progress, that path of improvement, which I am hopeful and confident that local residents have started to see or will soon start to see, is continued.” Shokat Lal, Chief Executive of Sandwell Council, said: “It is really pleasing to see the hard work of council officers paying off, with the significant improvements we’ve made being recognised in this report. “The first phase of our improvement journey has been about responding to the issues raised through external reviews and intervention, and we’ve had a real focus on becoming brilliant at the basics. “Part of that has been about fixing some of our governance processes; but fundamentally we know that it’s not simply new policies, strategies or procedures that help you deliver excellent services, it’s about people and our organisational culture and making sure we’re all working together to make a difference and help change people’s lives for the better. “We are now moving to a second phase of our journey which is about fully embedding a culture of continuous improvement, embracing transformational change and becoming a modern, efficient and agile organisation that has consistent high customer service standards. “We have much to be proud of, including our outstanding track record in attracting funding into our borough and the incredible Sandwell Aquatics Centre which is the best community leisure facility in the country. “There are opportunities for us to really build on these foundations so we can ensure we re-establish our rightful place in the West Midlands and in the country, and tell a new story about Sandwell so we’re spoken about for very different reasons than we have in recent years.” The Leader of Sandwell Council, Councillor Kerrie Carmichael, went on to say: “Sandwell is a great place full of people who look out for each other and get things done. “As one of the largest councils in the country, we serve more than 340,000 residents, and whilst it’s not our normal way to shout about ourselves, we’re proud that in our recent survey our residents scored us 5% higher than the national benchmark for overall satisfaction levels with the way the council is run. “From our work to support vulnerable children and adults to maintaining our highways and parks, we’re always looking to deliver the best possible services for our community.” Commissioners submitted their views and recommendations to the Secretary of State in December 2023 and Sandwell Council now awaits a response from the department, due in the coming weeks.

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