Government commissioners could cost Nottingham City Council £1,200 a day

By Joseph Locker

In August of 2020 a public interest report looking into the failings of Robin Hood Energy was published. It was a damning conclusion to Nottingham City Council's vanity project, and prompted the establishment of a Government-appointed Improvement and Assurances Board to oversee extensive organisational changes. If the council fails to adequately improve, commissioners will be sent in. This could cost the taxpayer dearly. Joseph Locker reports.

It is relatively rare for the Government to send in commissioners to take over the running of a local authority.

When it does, however, commissioners' wages and expenses must be met by the local authority itself.

Every quarter the Improvement and Assurances Board, chaired by Sir Tony Redmond, submits a progress report to the Department for Levelling-up, Housing and Communities which, in turn, responds.

Each one has been a mixed bag, with ministers emphasising they are not too happy with the pace of progress.

The city council has done a fair amount of work to improve, but its progress was somewhat hindered recently after £15m of illegitimate payments were uncovered.

It must now come up with a Medium Term Financial Plan (MTFP), outlining its plans to balance the books over the next four years, and all will come to a head in March.

There will be two possible outcomes: Either the Government is happy with the council's improvements or, it isn't, and so decides to send in the commissioners.

With great power comes... a great cost

If a local authority cannot demonstrate its ability to effectively improve its own governance and finances, best-value commissioners will be sent in.

Ultimately they act as advisors who typically have extensive experience and knowledge in public sector roles such as police forces and local authorities.

Loxley House, the home of Nottingham City Council (Nottingham Post)

They have the power to do whatever may be necessary to make sure the council can deliver its statutory services effectively and efficiently.

Great power comes at a great cost, too.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Levelling-Up, Housing and Communities told Nottinghamshire Live: "In all statutory interventions, the cost of commissioners is met by the council.

"The Secretary of State recently reviewed the day rate that the department sets for ministerial appointments to authorities in intervention, as fees were last updated in 2015.

"In order to reflect current sector rates, the Secretary of State decided to set the rate to £1,200 per day for the lead commissioner and £1,100 per day for assistant commissioners."

This means their wages will come out of the council's own budget and, of course, the taxpayer.

Best-value?

Looking at some of the recent Government interventions, it becomes clear the cost to a council can be significant.

Commissioners Tony McArdle and Brian Roberts were appointed to Conservative-run Northamptonshire County Council back in May, 2018.

Chief commissioner Mr McArdle was paid £800 per day while Mr Roberts received £700 per day, as was standard at the time.

Daily pay rates increased on December 1 last year.

The commissioners were in place between May 16, 2018, and March 31, 2021.

After their appointment the area was changed to a unitary set-up, with two councils, North Northants and West Northants, now governing the area.

According to a West Northants spokesman in 2018/19 the commissioners' costs totalled £458,903, in 2019/20 the costs were £447,637 and finally in 2020/21 the total cost was £300,021.

According to reports they had also come under fire for claiming on expenses, with Unison saying the money could have been better spent on services at the time.

In 11 months Mr McArdle was said to have claimed £6,278 for hotel stays and £1,489 on food and drink, reports from the time say.

Slough Borough Council is one of the most recent to be placed under the control of commissioners.

In line with the new rate which was announced on December 1 last year, the lead commissioner is paid £1,200 per day and the two assistant commissioners are paid £1,100 per day, the Department for Levelling-up told Nottinghamshire Live.

Liverpool City Council is in a similar situation.

Catherine Frances, the director general for local government and services, wrote to the four Liverpool commissioners to advise them of the fee increase at the end of last year.

The commissioners were appointed in June last year and the taxpayer must now fund the 50 percent day-rate, having risen in the time since the were introduced.

This has prompted anger, the Liverpool Echo reports.

A big price to pay however you may look at it

Kevin Clarke, the leader of the Clifton Independents and councillor for Clifton East, believes there will be a big price to pay however you choose to look at it.

He told Nottinghamshire Live: "It is like anything else, someone has got to pay for them.

"At the end of the day is it not [the city council's] fault that they have fallen into this situation? That is the reason, you have put yourself into that position so you are going to be charged for it.

"And to be honest the amount of money and savings the council is going to put through, closing everything down, it means it will be able to put a good plan through but there is a huge cost to the citizens of Nottingham.

"Either way, is it any value for money? It isn't going to be for the citizens of Nottingham."

Nottingham City Council declined to comment.

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