Agenda Item 3
Doncaster Recovery – progress report to Recovery
25 January 2011
In discussions we have described the Doncaster recovery programme as
having three layers:
1. Re-gaining appropriate operating arrangements: for managing
Doncaster’s challenges, taking decisions, and applying good
2. Developing sufficient depth to these operating arrangements: so that
Doncaster’s recovery will be sustained beyond the Intervention
3. Moving Doncaster on to being a leading council in the context of new
circumstances and challenges: taking advantage of the intensity of
the intervention process and the scale of the change programme.
Progress against the most immediate challenge of re-gaining appropriate
operating arrangements has been good so far. It was evident from the
beginning of the Intervention (and indeed from the months preceding it) that
the organisation was determined to put its difficulties behind it. There has
been a very positive response to the identification of key challenges, a realism
in developing responses, and a mature approach to decision making in a
political context that creates the possibility of stalemate. Some difficult
decisions have been taken, particularly over the implementation of
Doncaster’s Change Programme.
The practice of effective decision making will in itself contribute to developing
depth to the approach, but explicit attention to developing an understanding of
roles and appropriate arrangements is also required. This has begun in the
last three months, and will be intensified as the senior management structure
is implemented and as preparations are made for the 2011/12 council year.
This is perhaps the subtlest element of the recovery programme, and the
layer where progress is most difficult to assess.
Little progress has yet been made against the challenges of the third layer,
although Doncaster can claim some strong signs of progress in response to
the development of LEPs and new contexts for investment, and in responding
to the NHS changes. A major opportunity to accelerate Doncaster’s response
to new contexts more generally will come between the completion of this
budget round, in February, and strategic agenda setting for the new council
year, starting in June.
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Progress has been made against each of the eleven strands of the recovery
programme. The following paragraphs add a commentary to the objective
summaries provided in the performance report which is a separate item on
Continued attention is required to each, as the summaries below make clear.
Of the eleven, the Housing Improvement Plan and Partnership Working are
the two where current progress appears most fragile.
1 Children’s Service Improvement Plan
OFSTED published its Annual Performance Assessment for 2009/10 in
December. It assessed Doncaster’s performance as remaining poor for that
year, but it also reported encouraging signals of a strengthening recovery.
This seems right in both respects.
Although short term improvements were made as interim teams dealt with
urgent failings in 2009, it has only been since Easter 2010 that a sustainable
improvement programme, led by permanent appointments at senior level, has
begun to take effect. In the latter half of the year a number of the key PIs
began to show strong trends and some are approaching the averages of
similar authorities. The service now has much lower numbers of interim and
agency staff, and can thus build the performance culture, supervision
arrangements and expectations of professionalism which will allow further and
It launched a new Safeguarding Strategy and Action Plan in October, which
was informed by a comprehensive baseline assessment. It is implementing a
new Integrated Family Support Service (in the context of the termination of a
number of dedicated funding streams) to strengthen the preventative system,
and a new approach to managing children with behavioural difficulties is in
draft and the subject of consultations. A further new strategy, re-defining
relationships with schools, will be available in February.
The senior management structure of the service has not been affected by the
major review affecting the rest of the Council, but substantial budget
reductions, and a number of redundancies, are following the loss of
government grants. Although there are some tensions, these changes are
being managed well.
Progress against the Children’s Improvement Plan was reviewed by the DFE
in November. The reviewers expressed confidence in the approach being
taken, but also noted that much still remains to be done. The senior
managers of the service believe that this further progress is dependent on a
clear vision and on raising professional standards in the service. That seems
right to me: it will be a crucial and difficult stage in the Improvement Plan.
2 Housing Improvement Plan
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Key PIs are also improving here, but again there is much further to go. In
some areas, affordable housing for instance, prospects are deeply affected by
economic and market conditions. Doncaster is still some way off achieving
Decent Home standards for all its social housing and this problem will be
accentuated by the cut in government funding for housing decency. There
are also some major problems in the private rented sector that require
St Leger Homes, the Doncaster ALMO, was awarded three stars by the 2010
assessment – a major and well-deserved step forward. But relations between
the Council’s Administration and the ALMO are sometimes strained, and work
undertaken by both the Audit Commission and KPMG (commissioned to look
at VFM across the organisations) indicates that there is much to do to improve
the overall housing system. A new contract with the ALMO will be considered
by the Administration in March.
The HCA has been very supportive to the housing improvement process, and
has provided direct input to the team developing a Local Investment Plan for
Doncaster: an important element (alongside the LDF) of the context required
to give confidence to housing developers considering investments in the
The Housing Improvement Board now has a programme of action which
should see progress on these agendas, but it is still at a formative stage.
I believe that the Recovery Board should retain a strong interest in this strand,
until the improvement strategy is more secure. It is a clear test of DMBC’s
ability to provide appropriate governance in an area of significant service
3 Transformation of Adult Care
The annual performance assessment of the Adult Care Service confirmed
further strengthening of this service. It was assessed as good against five
criteria, and excellent against the remaining two.
In the context of significant national uncertainties over the implementation of
NHS reforms, good progress is being made locally. Most Community Health
services will transfer to a partnership between the council and the local Mental
Health Trust (RDaSH) in April 2011. There is an existing, large, GPs network
that has been approved as a GP commissioning pathfinder. Plans are being
developed for the transfer of the Public Health function to the Council as soon
as the national terms are declared, and we are aiming to put a Health and
Well-Being Board into place well in advance of the required date.
The most significant governance and decision making challenges have been
focussed on the changing balance of directly funded adult care. A decision to
cease a visiting wardens service, and to rely on telecare and community
support structures, was taken some years ago but detailed implementation
arrangements were only confirmed by Cabinet on 12 January. Difficult
decisions over the closure of a residential home, and the possible cessation of
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moderate needs assessments, have been deferred from this year’s budget
proposals for attention in later years.
There are a number of service-user-group-specific strategies, but we do not
yet have a clear, fully adopted, over-arching Adult Services Transformation
strategy which pulls these threads into a confident coherent whole.
4 Narrowing gaps and reducing dependency
There have been some practical steps here:
retention of an element of support to local job seekers and enterprises
through the continuation Work Skills and Enterprise Programme.
However, available funding will be exhausted by 2013. (after political
progress on the Integrated Family Intervention Service and Support
improvements in Children’s and Housing services, with impacts on
quality of life and life chances.
The planned consideration of a partnership approach to the challenge, in the
context of the ending of relevant national funding programmes was postponed
from the autumn of 2010 until this month. The workshop developed a shared
view of the need to intervene over life chances, a fuller understanding of the
balance between individual responsibility and the role of public services, and
a shared commitment to carry out a more rigorous stock take of the key
issues in Doncaster in order to establish sharper priorities for 2011 onwards.
5 Capital Investment Plans
The Council, and its partners, has found responses to the changes in
investment conditions, and then the major changes in the government’s
approach to capital programmes. It has:
accepted an offer to act as a pathfinder for a new approach to school
development: a rebuilt Campsmount Secondary School is scheduled
for completion in the summer.
taken the Civic and Cultural Quarter scheme through to full
commitment despite the loss of YF funding. Building work has now
re-presented the White Rose Way and FARRRS schemes in the
context of changed government strategies. Both seem to have a
reasonable chance of progressing to commitments.
There has been less progress over major housing investments, but in general
the council is proving nimble and resourceful in rapidly changing
6 Change agenda
This has been the single most demanding challenge for the council as a
whole. Progress has been dependent on the responsiveness of officer
colleagues, but also on the developing ability of the political structure to take
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hard decisions in areas where the constitution requires the alignment of
decisions between the administration, council committees and full council.
The council was late to attend to the challenge, and had no analysis or plans
in July 2010. Since then it has:
agreed in-year savings of £5.2m
developed an initial change programme, and adjusted it following a
Mirror Report which helped calibrate savings targets
agreed the re-assignment of project-specific reserves in order to
finance a major VER/VR scheme
developed budget proposals proportionate to target spending
reductions of £30m in 2011/12 and a further £40m over the following
explored service offer changes, including politically difficult elements,
and established significant political common ground
agreed the release of 700 staff, under VER/VR terms, where their
departures are consistent with the change programme and altered
agreed changes in conditions of service which apply to redeployment
and notice periods
developed proposals for shared services with neighbouring councils
It has thus met the milestones set out in the Recovery programme and its
plans are now as advanced as those of most authorities.
The challenges of delivering the plans remain significant. The political
balance of the council means that the outcome of the Budget Council on 21
February remains uncertain, although preparatory political discussions are
progressing well. The immediate departure of staff will accelerate the
practical implementation of changes, but much work is still required before full
implementation is assured. The change programme management
arrangements have been revised to focus on this, rather than the
developmental stages, of the programme.
This will remain the most significant bell-weather of Doncaster’s governance
and decision-making strengths for the year ahead, but progress so far has
7 Development of skills, behaviours, relationships and decision making
The wish to develop good and appropriate practice is widely, and strongly, felt
across the officer and political cadres of the council. This has made it
possible to develop effective means of responding to the driving agendas and
difficult decisions that have characterised the last six months.
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But it has also been evident that the underpinnings of good practice have
been neglected in recent years, even where they have not been directly
corroded by difficult events summarised in the CGI report.
Work to deepen an understanding of good practice, and to inculcate
appropriate approaches and habits, has included:
attention to role descriptions and process protocols
mentoring for key individuals
open information flows and member workshops
nurturing of discussion across the political landscape
trouble shooting of some specific sources of tension
development sessions for the Cabinet
This work needs to be developed further in the first half of 2011. There is a
particular need to develop a stronger approach to strategic thinking, so that
Doncaster Council can move beyond recovery and response to external
circumstances and drive an ambitious agenda for the borough.
There also needs to be a parallel development session for senior officers now
that the senior management review is nearing completion, and there is a need
to restate the desired values and culture of the council.
8 Review of appointment processes
Doncaster’s employee relations framework has been reviewed in consultation
with the commissioners and leading councillors. A new framework has been
agreed and the necessary constitutional changes will be taken through
Council at its January meeting.
The changes include provisions which will ensure that director appointments
are made by panels drawn from the Chief Officers Appointment Committee
and Cabinet. Assistant Directors will be appointed by Directors, in
consultation with the relevant portfolio holder.
In practice the new arrangements for director appointments have been
reflected in the processes used to make the December appointments to the
new directorate team. The commissioners have also been involved in the
appointment processes, reflecting a requirement of the Intervention. The
Director of Finance and Corporate Services appointment has been confirmed
by the SoS for Communities and Local Government on the basis of a
unanimous recommendation from the Doncaster interview panel, the
commissioners and the Chief Executive. Simon Wiles will take up the role
from 7 February 2011.
The interview processes themselves have been appropriately managed, if a
little stilted. Some further training is planned for future panels.
Salary levels have been the subject of lively discussion. A review of market
conditions is planned as a result.
9 Effective Overview and Scrutiny
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A wish to move away from the OandS practices of 2009 was evident from the
start of the Intervention.
Efforts have been made to re-focus the work of the panels on a smaller
number of issues, developed in open dialogue with relevant cabinet portfolio
holders. This process was stuttering during the summer but has become
generally much better established in recent months. Difficulties remain
around the work of one panel, but attention to this area has been escalated
and I have now become directly involved in discussions with the portfolio
holder and the panel chair.
Development sessions have been organised for key OandS members,
Jessica Crowe’s experience and contacts have been used to ensure that
Doncaster is aware of good practice and alternative approaches elsewhere.
The OandS involvement in the budget process, established in the constitution,
has been re-focused on appropriate questions. Key sessions are taking place
during January and have been constructive and well-conducted.
Substantial progress has thus been made, but this remains a sensitive area
where watchful oversight and appropriate support remain important. The
transition into the 2011/12 council year will be a key period. There are plans
to ensure that the year starts with clear agendas for the panels. There will
also be a need to give support to any new OSMC members or panel chairs.
10 Partnership working
A recent review carried out by Pam Booth of LGID notes the progress made
during 2010 in creating a commitment to partnership working in Doncaster.
The contribution of Steve Nesbit, as Partnership Director, has clearly been
important to the progress made but it is also evident that key individuals,
across the partnership landscape, have been committed to collaboration
where the best interests of Doncaster could be advanced in that way.
A revised Borough Strategy was signed off in November. Significantly it was
endorsed by the leaders of all the political groups on the council as well as all
members of Doncaster Together, albeit after complex discussions over the
text. A planned workshop session on the Doncaster approach to intervention
where individuals have low life chances, following the cessation of
government schemes, was deferred from the autumn, but should have taken
place by the time of the Recovery Board meeting.
Several significant changes occur as we go into 2011:
We will have a further, statutory, partnership structure – a “health and
The Children’s Trust is now operating strongly
We have commitments to partnership approaches to:
o A Doncaster Observatory
o A multi-agency review of assets and facilities management
o Collaborative approaches to communications
o Collaborative approaches to Organisational Development
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The current Partnership Director is returning to his role in the civil
service, and no funding is identified for successor arrangements
NHS changes are likely to proceed quickly in Doncaster
There is a general need to make efficiencies wherever possible as
CSR2010 is implemented.
Discussions so far have led to a view that leaner and more purpose specific
partnership approaches should be put in place for 2011, with the confidence
that the commitment to making them work is now widely shared. The
transition will carry risks, however. Partnership working thus remains an area
for significant attention.
The commitment to the Change Programme across the officer and Councillor
structure has been impressive, and indicates both the hunger within the
organisation for clear leadership and the ability of key colleagues to rise to the
challenge of providing it. So far (and many of the most difficult stages still lie
ahead) the organisation has responded to the key challenges with
thoughtfulness and resilience. The maturity of senior managers who have
provided leadership despite themselves facing very uncertain futures has
been particularly striking.
Key results from the November employee survey are attached at Appendix A.
Although undertaken at a time of job uncertainty for staff, the results act as a
reminder of the deeper dissatisfactions within the organisation. In general the
findings are little different from those obtained by the last survey in 2008,
although there has been a significant improvement in “understanding the need
for change” – perhaps as much because of the national agenda as local
communications and leadership.
Open and honest communications, and an expressed confidence in the
organisation’s ability to rise to its challenges, have been key to the leadership
approach. With the completion of the senior management review sessions on
individual and team leadership are planned to establish wider and deeper
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