Headlines: September 19th, 2001

The Government is to use new powers under the 1999 Local Government Act for the first time. It is to intervene at Hackney Council to safeguard local services, after years of corporate failure.Five Government Departments have issued ‘draft directions’ to the council requiring service improvements in education, social services, waste management, housing benefits and tough action to get the Council’s budget back in balance. The council has been given 14 days to respond.

The measure requires some thorough actions to bring the authority back into line, including an action plan for establishing a new system of financial management, addressing skill shortages in procurement and contract management, establishing a new body to deliver the education service in the Borough and to clear a backlog of outstanding Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit work by 31 December.

The Government says it cannot allow corporate failure to be translated into unacceptably poor services for people who live in Hackney.

The Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions announced in June that he might use his new powers of intervention subject to advice from the Audit Commission. The commission investigated and found that Hackney was in breach of its duty to provide best value, and in such serious financial difficulties that essential frontline services were at risk.

The council says the detailed criticism coming from the Government relates to past failures, and claims it is willing and already on target to bring about many of the changes now demanded.

Links: www.dtlr.gov.uk www.hackney.gov.uk