Independent panel says Wirral Council ‘much improved’

Wirral Council is in a “much improved” position and has “clearer vision for the organisation and the borough” according to the chair of a high-level panel put in place to oversee changes to the authority.

The Independent Assurance Panel (IAP), chaired by Carolyn Downs, included specialist advisors with significant local government experience including two Local Government Association peer representatives.

Over the last two years they have had oversight of the council’s Improvement Programme designed to put the authority on a more secure footing and ensure it is moving in the right direction.

The decision of the Independent Assurance Panel (IAP) to stand down was announced at a meeting of the council’s Policy and Resources Committee on 20 March.

In a letter confirming the Panel’s support to Wirral Council should end, its chair, Carolyn Downs said, “There have been significant improvements in the council over the period of the panel’s involvement.”

She highlighted how the Panel had seen “significant changes” including the authority swapping to all out elections once every four years and a streamlined committee system for decision-making by councillors.

Chief Executive of Wirral Council, Paul Satoor, said, “Wirral Council has come a long way in a relatively short period of time. This has been done by acknowledging the council needed to change and then working closely together for the benefit of the people of this borough and using the advice and help available to achieve this.

“This process has always been about ensuring the council is in a strong position to deliver the best service we can for the people of Wirral, to be efficient, and able to provide the best possible value for money and it is good to see the Panel has confidence that Wirral has made such strides and continues to move in the right direction.

“In addition, I would like to thank Carolyn Downs and the members of the IAP for their advice and assistance over the last couple of years.”

The IAP had been asked by the authority to oversee its improvement in response to an External Assurance Review commissioned by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) and published in November 2021.

That External Assurance Review had been undertaken as a condition of the council’s request for exceptional financial support in 2020-21 and 2021-22, and the IAP was subsequently a part of the council’s move towards putting itself on a sustainable financial footing.

The Panel chair said that although Wirral Council had sought approval for £15.4million capitalisation from Government that it “only needed to utilise £12.4m”. She added that since then the “council’s Medium Term Financial Strategy represents good progress” and that “the council has produced a firm foundation from which to continue its work”.

In her final letter to council leadership, Ms Downs also noted Wirral “demonstrates real ambition” in its regeneration and housing programmes and “has been very successful in creating and designing schemes and then attracting supporting external funding”.

She said that previously regeneration delivery “has been too slow” but identified that the council had moved to address this saying that in the past six months resources have been “mapped to prioritised schemes to speed up delivery”.

Other improvements at Wirral Council flagged by the IAP chair include:

  • significantly improved cross party working
  • reports to members which are clear, concise, and informative
  • increased trust in officers from councillors
  • a comprehensive approach to performance management

Ms Downs added that while the authority’s “budgetary situation remains very challenging, this is common to most councils and Wirral is now managing its budgetary position with competence”.

She added, “Whilst Wirral remains and will remain a challenging political environment, the council through its members and officers have worked well to improve the working environment and we congratulate them.”

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