It has been a challenging year for the Council but I’m confident we’ve turned a corner.
The headlines have been about the findings of our external auditors, but behind the scenes a great deal of work has been done to put historic failings right.
That hard work is now paying off, and we can finally put those issues into the past where they belong. Our accounts for 2015/16 were signed off by the auditors in September and those for 2016/17 have followed suit this week.
Our 2017/18 accounts should be signed off on time; a position which appeared ambitious just a few months ago now looks like reality.
Then there was the Report in the Public Interest which made a number of recommendations back in June 2016. We acted swiftly to put in place an action plan in response, and we have delivered against that too.
Now we face a fresh challenge, after we voluntarily entered into a Corporate Peer Review with the Local Government Association (LGA) – effectively inviting industry colleagues to look for other areas where work was needed.
People normally like to point to all they’re doing right so it wasn’t easy when we decided to ask the LGA to come in and look for what was wrong.
But after everything the Council had been through, and after focusing on those areas requiring immediate improvement, we wanted an objective opinion.
The issues the Council has faced and continues to face stretch back over many years and many different political administrations. We want to nip remaining issues in the bud to make sure they aren’t left unaddressed ever again.
That is why we have acted quickly to prepare a Corporate Improvement Plan to respond to these most recent findings by the LGA.
The plan addresses the main themes from the report and tasks senior officers at the Council with delivering them. Operational aspects will be addressed by the Chief Executive and are included in the plan.
We held a meeting with members of our cross-party Executive Overview and Scrutiny Board to discuss it, and they agreed to regularly review progress to ensure delivery.
It is the responsibility of all councillors across every political party to deliver against the actions included in our improvement plan.
The report raised some difficult issues that cannot be ignored. Positive working relationships between elected members and council officers are vital.
As a Council Cabinet, we set the strategic direction of the Council, and we decide where to spend the scant resources we have left following the Government’s successive funding reductions.
We prioritise key areas, ensuring we protect our most vulnerable residents while investing in our ambitious plans for Derby’s future.
As part of that process, we rely on officers to give us their professional advice and to deliver against that – they are experts in their respective fields.
Challenge is healthy, and as the elected representatives of the public it’s up to councillors across all parties to make sure we do set challenging targets to achieve the very best for Derby.
Likewise, it’s up to officers to challenge our thinking and ensure we consider all the implications of the decisions we take.
At no time should anyone feel that their contribution isn’t of merit to the organisation, and if that occurs then we need to a step back and rethink our approach.
As part of the improvement plan, members of all political groups will be provided with training and support to ensure collaborative working not just with each other, but with the officers who we depend upon to achieve the best possible outcomes for our city.
There’ll be plenty of time for politics in the lead-up to May’s elections. For now, the focus is on overcoming our challenges together so we can continue to make strides in the right direction.
Councillor Baggy Shanker
Cabinet Member for Finance & Governance