GOVERNMENT commissioners have revealed they will be leaving a council placed in special measures after two years.

Sandwell Council will be moving out of government intervention this month after a two-year period which saw commissioners brought in over concerns about the troubled Labour-run authority’s governance and leadership.

Local government minister Simon Hoare confirmed that government intervention would be coming to an end.

The government-appointed commissioners said the present council was a “far cry” from what they first encountered two years ago.

In a report to ministers, commissioners Kim Bromley-Derry and Jim Taylor said: “The staff, the elected members, and most importantly, the residents, have all noted the changes. The improvement work which was once seen as a standalone priority has now been interwoven with the ‘business as usual’ strategic planning of the council.  In short, we believe the council is now meeting its ‘best value’ duty and is capable of taking forward its improvement independently.”

The news comes shortly after Sandwell Council’s external auditors Grant Thornton revealed they no longer had ‘serious’ concerns over poor leadership.

Grant Thornton said they were willing to remove a series of directives built to force improvements after the authority was placed in special measures and under the control of commissioners two years ago.

The auditors said the three statutory recommendations – which Sandwell Council was legally forced to address – could be ‘lifted’ after “appropriate” progress was found to have been made during a follow-up review last year.

However, auditors still raised concerns about rising costs and increasing delays to the council’s multi-million-pound switch to HR and finance software Oracle Fusion and that “significant improvements” still needed to be made in the council’s finance department.

Cllr Kerrie Carmichael, leader of Sandwell Council, said: “We are delighted ministers have concluded that the directions can be lifted. To have achieved this within two years is testament to the huge amount of work that has got us to this point.

“From the outset of this process we accepted that we needed to make significant improvements. Our focus throughout has been to make sure we are set up to deliver the best possible outcomes for our residents, and that has meant changing the way we operate.

“This is not the end of our journey. We are really pleased to have made sufficient progress to get out of intervention but are determined to continue this trajectory and are striving for excellence. I want to thank council officers for their efforts and the commissioners for the constructive way in which they have approached their role.”

In a letter to Sandwell Council, minister for local government Simon Hoare said: “We very much welcome the progress your council has made over the duration of the intervention. The commissioners’ report to the secretary of state outlines many positive developments; it is clear they have considerable confidence in the chief executive and the leadership team and welcome the “continued and significant political stability” and the increased support to members. It is clear the council has continued to make significant changes, and that there has been considerable progress since the third report.”

Shokat Lal, chief executive of Sandwell Council, said: “It is great to see the hard work of our staff paying off, alongside the political leadership of Cllr Kerrie Carmichael and her cabinet, with the significant improvements we’ve made being recognised in this decision to end intervention. Our ambition is to become an outstanding council, so we are not going to be complacent with intervention ending and see this only as the end of the beginning.

“The first phase of our improvement journey has been about responding to the issues raised through external reviews and intervention, and we’ve had a real focus on becoming brilliant at the basics.

“Part of that has been about fixing some of our governance processes; but fundamentally we know that it’s not simply new policies, strategies or procedures that help you deliver excellent services, it’s about people and our organisational culture and making sure we’re all working together to make a difference and help change people’s lives for the better.

“We are now moving to a second phase of our journey which is about fully embedding a culture of continuous improvement, embracing transformational change and becoming a modern, efficient and agile organisation that has consistent high customer service standards.”