'Even I don't understand it': South Ribble leader's verdict on council's management set-up

Cllr Foster took control of the authority earlier this month
Cllr Foster took control of the authority earlier this month

The leader of South Ribble Borough Council has called for an overhaul of the senior management structure at the authority.

Describing the current arrangements as being like “spaghetti junction”, Paul Foster told a meeting of the council’s governance committee that he believed posts had been filled which were not part of the plan which councillors agreed two years ago.

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“Management structures should be the most straightforward thing to understand,” Cllr Foster said.

“But if there is recruitment going on into non-established posts, then how on earth is that being allowed to happen?

“It’s not clear who is responsible for what and it’s not reflective of what council [members] approved.

"If I’m honest, I’m sat here today and I still don’t understand the management structure of this authority," he added.

The recently-elected Labour leader made the comments as the committee met to discuss the council’s annual governance statement.

That document indicates that the implementation of the authority’s new senior management structure has been completed – but the council’s monitoring officer, Dave Whelan, agreed to “look again” at the matter to confirm that the plan had been put in place as councillors intended.

Cllr Foster also raised concerns that the authority might not be following its own rules in relation to contracts.

The meeting heard that work is continuing to reduce the risks posed by lost contract documents, missed deadlines and loss of knowledge because of staff changes.

“The [rules] themselves are very sound and have been reviewed recently – the question is whether…the spirit of the rules is always being complied with,” Mr. Whelan said.

Meanwhile, members were told that the authority’s annual internal audit for the last financial year has now been completed – but the officer responsible for overseeing the process said her department was “under resourced”.

“There is no resilience in that team,” Janice Bamber, interim head of shared assurance, said.

Just over three quarters of the planned work to assess the authority’s processes was completed – but the committee heard that the failure to finish all of the work was due to ongoing reviews of the services which were due to be assessed.

Dave Whelan said that he was confident that additional money would be identified if further internal audit work was required.

External auditors will begin their annual work at the authority next week. Last year, Grant Thornton, the company responsible for external assessment of the council, issued a warning notice known as a “statutory recommendation”.

Auditors criticised the authority for weaknesses in its management structure and for failing to respond adequately to recommendations about how to improve the council’s performance. The then Conservative administration said at the time that the audit assessment was out of date.