By Tony Earnshaw Local Democracy Reporter
AN INDEPENDENT review of Kirklees Council by a team of local government experts reported an “outmoded paternalistic approach” within parts of the authority.
The seven-member team, which carried out a four-day visit last summer, also highlighted confusion over the roles occupied by senior council officers and councillors on the decision-making Cabinet. Its report stated: “Members should develop policy and officers should implement and deliver it.”
The team, representing the Local Government Association, set out eight key recommendations to assist the council on its “improvement journey”.
They included better communications, listening to residents, collaborating with the community, streamlining decision-making, reviewing the “destabilising” electoral cycle, reclaiming management of its housing stock and establishing a single clinical commissioning group.
The team also identified “a lack of risk appetite” in the authority around financial management “which could constrain the council’s pace and ambition” and suggested “a bolder approach” was required.
The authority has already reacted to some suggestions and is looking to take back housing stock from arms-length management organisation Kirklees Neighbourhood Housing (KNH).
It may also reverse a decision, taken in 2013, to split the borough’s healthcare in two by creating the Greater Huddersfield and North Kirklees clinical commissioning groups (CCGs).
Following observations by the peer team that the health and care system in Kirklees was “more fragmented” than other places in West Yorkshire, with a “disjointed, transactional approach” to commissioning, the two CCGs are now considering a formal merger.
Reacting to leadership within the council, the peer team referred to a mindset of “working with people, not doing to them” as “powerful”. But it added: “It does not align with the outmoded paternalistic approach which the peer team heard still exists in some parts of the organisation.”
The report also called for “sharper delineation of roles” between Cabinet members and senior officers as well as a re-prioritising of the council’s Democracy Commission, set up in 2017 to reform how decisions are made.
In addressing the council’s risk averse stance the peer team said: “Taking calculated risks will help the council to move forward with the delivery of its long-term ambitions for the place and people.”
In drawing up its feedback report the peer team spent four days in Kirklees and spoke to more than 300 staff, councillors, partners and stakeholders.
They praised the council for its ambition and for its 10-year £250m vision – known as the Huddersfield Blueprint – which will be the biggest town centre redevelopment for 50 years.
Coun Shabir Pandor, Leader of Kirklees Council (pictured), said: “We are delighted with the outcome. It shows that we are giving strong leadership to the area and being bold in transforming the way we work.
“We are ambitious for our residents and, whilst there is still a lot of work ahead, there is a powerful desire to continue transforming the district.”
The report will be discussed next week at Full Council.