New chief installed at 'dysfunctional' Doncaster council

A new chief executive and a team of commissioners are to be put in charge of Doncaster Council in a bid to turn around the failing authority, recently criticised over the deaths of seven children, Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles announced today.

There will also be a non-executive Intervention and Recovery Board to "support, challenge and monitor" progress and report back to Mr Pickles.

The move follows a damning inspection by the Audit Commission, which criticised the authority's social services over the deaths of the seven youngsters.

The council has also apologised for failures which allowed two brothers to torture two other boys in Edlington.

Rob Vincent, currently chief executive of Kirklees Council, will now take the helm at Doncaster.

Mr Pickles said: "After 15 years of failure, Doncaster people need to be properly served by their council.

"The dysfunctional politics, poor services and ineffective leadership, identified by the Audit Commission, all must be addressed.

"All parties have agreed that intervention is needed and the package of measures we're announcing today will ensure that Doncaster gets the proper leadership and expertise that is urgently required for turning this situation around.

"We are taking these actions to ensure that a well-run Doncaster Council starts to prioritise the local people it's accountable to by creating the better, more efficient local services they're entitled to."

The commissioners will have the power to appoint, discipline and dismiss officers and ensure that bipartisan advice is heeded.

One of Mr Vincent's first tasks will be to oversee the appointment of other key officers and help get "value for money" for the council's £450 million revenue budget.

The Department for Communities and Local Government said the council would be given time to discuss the proposals before a final statutory order was introduced.

Mr Vincent said: "I am looking forward to committing myself to helping Doncaster re-find its stride and make the progress that all who know the town are looking for.

"I know that it is a place with a great history, some current strengths, and good prospects.

"It has had many problems over a number of years, and there will be difficulties in finding a confident way forward.

"But it is clear that many individuals, officers and politicians remain highly committed and motivated to achieve the best for local people."

A statement from Doncaster Council said the authority would continue to put forward suggestions during the three-week consultation process.

Peter Davies, mayor of Doncaster, said in the statement: "We note the draft directions and welcome much of what they say.

"During the three-week consultation period, we will continue to make representations to the Government for the benefit of Doncaster."

Since the start of this year the council has had a number of chief executives.

Paul Hart, who worked for the council for a total of nearly seven years, resigned his chief executive position in January, just one week before the Edlington case sentencing.

In a statement released on January 15, the date his resignation came into effect, he said: "I have been part of Doncaster Council for six and a half years and have worked through some really tough times and have also been part of some great achievements and successes.

"I am stepping down for personal reasons. Doncaster has great potential and great people that I have been privileged to work with. I thank them for their continuing hard work and wish them all the best in the challenges that lay ahead."

A spokeswoman for the council said today that Mr Hart was not given a pay-off on his departure.

Tim Leader followed Mr Hart to the role, but only remained there for two months following a fall-out with the town's mayor.

Mr Davies openly questioned the validity of the appointment and urged Mr Leader to quit, which he eventually did in April.

Mr Vincent will now replace Jo Miller, who was drafted in from her role as deputy chief executive of the Local Government Association (LGA) after Mr Leader left.

Following the Audit Commission report in April, Ms Miller said her role was to try to better serve the residents of Doncaster.

"This report paints a very poor picture of Doncaster Council and it is clear that the council has not served its residents as well as it should have," Ms Miller said at the time.

"That is not to say that it is all bad, as there are many good things happening in Doncaster, but we must be committed to raising the standards of governance in Doncaster and improving the council for the good of the borough."

The Doncaster Council spokeswoman said Ms Miller was never intended to be permanent and it is thought she will not remain with the council once the consultation period is over and Mr Vincent steps in.