Council leader David Mellen has accused the Conservative party of acting in their own interests as it emerged commissioners could be brought in by the government to intervene in the running of the authority. The council leader has apologized to the people of Nottingham for “mistakes made in the past” but, in a jaw-dropping statement, said he doesn’t feel it is necessary to bring in commissioners.
Speaking after millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money was’ misspent ‘or pumped into the doomed Robin Hood Energy company, Cllr Mellen still maintained that the misfortunes of the City Council were down to Conservative cuts, and that the decision to send commissioners in was effectively a distraction technique.
The authority is already being monitored by a Government-appointed board, chaired by Sir Tony Redmond, after the collapse of Robin Hood Energy in January 2020. In May this year, it was revealed that up to £ 40m from the council’s Housing Revenue Account had been misspent on the wrong services.
The council housing tenants’ rent – which should have been pumped into council housing and repairs – was put into general council services. The Penn Report, commissioned by the council, says the money was misspent, and in some cases was used to prop up other council services and to avoid job losses.
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In a letter published on Thursday, June 23 to Sir Tony Redmond, Kemi Badenoch MP said the Secretary of State for the Department for Leveling Up, Housing and Communities, “is minded to intervene” in the city council’s case. Sir Tony Redmond is currently chairing a Government-appointed board monitoring the council.
Cllr Mellen said: “It [Robin Hood Energy] didn’t work and we had to draw that to an end. You can’t just take away a quarter of our budget and expect things to carry on as normal – the context in which we have been operating is important.
“We do not agree that this is a necessary step – we have shown significant improvements, but this is a step that the government has taken. It is much more to do with the fortunes of the Conservative party than it is Nottingham – it is no coincidence that this has come out on the same day as by-elections in Wakefield and Tiveton and Honiton.
“I have apologized lots of times before for mistakes made in the past, I did that many times when the first reservations about Robin Hood Energy, and I’m not afraid to apologize to the people of Nottingham again. It’s not something I want. to do, but it is not something I am afraid of doing. “
He added: “This is a council which is committed to bringing our finances under control. We will work with these commissioners if they do come, even if we don’t feel it is a necessary step.”
Mr Mellen told Nottinghamshire Live that he does not believe commissioners would affect ordinary services run by Nottingham City Council, such as bin collections, although he cannot be sure on the exact implications until it happens. It is also unclear how large projects like the Broad Marsh area redevelopment will be affected.
He believes mistakes made in the past were borne out of councils being encouraged by past Conservative governments to be commercial, which ultimately led to failed ventures such as Robin Hood Energy.
If a local authority cannot demonstrate its ability to effectively improve its own governance and finances, best-value commissioners will be sent in. They act as advisors who typically have extensive experience and knowledge in public sector roles such as police forces and local authorities.
Councilor Andrew Rule, leader of the Conservative party in Nottingham, said: “I am very disappointed to read the Labor group statement on events today which is pretty out of touch with reality. The reality is that this has culminated from Robin Hood Energy to the Recent unlawful spending so to try and dress it up and blame it on the Conservatives is not right.
“They have absolutely let Nottingham down. The council has had numerous opportunities to reform itself, which it hasn’t done – we have now got to a situation where we have run out of time.”
The current Chief Executive of Nottingham City Council is Mel Barrett, who was appointed in May 2020, replacing Ian Curryer. He admitted in an interview with Nottinghamshire Live in January 2021 that the City Council was facing a ‘significant challenge’ but added: “I’m up for the challenge and I think the political leadership is up for the challenge, and what we need to do develop that recovery plan, and then implement it. “
In a statement released after the latest news, Mr Barrett said: “We have been making good progress on our recovery and improvement plan over the last 18 months, working closely with the Independent Improvement and Assurance Board appointed by the Government to oversee its implementation.
“We have had a positive relationship with the Board and its chair Sir Tony Redmond. Sir Tony’s appointment as the lead commissioner therefore provides reassurance and continuity. This, and the fact that commissioners have been appointed for two years rather than the normal three, is recognition of the progress we have already made over the last 18 months. “
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