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Another Kerslake shocker: ‘Birmingham councillors facing wage cuts’

Another Kerslake shocker: ‘Birmingham councillors facing wage cuts’

🕔17.Feb 2015

The review of Birmingham city council’s governance capabilities by Sir Bob Kerslake is bound to change the way the authority operates, but it will also hit elected representatives in the pocket.

A generous system of Special Responsibility Allowances for councillors who chair scrutiny, regulatory and district committees is under direct threat.

Kerslake spotted that the 10 district committees are pretty useless and his recommendation that their role should be downgraded from running local services to scrutinising the role of public bodies and liaising with residents will be implemented from May.

Naturally, the £10,574 SRA paid to district chairs (on top of basic salary of £16,267 for a three day week) will have to be drastically reduced. Quite by how much is not yet clear.

Kerslake also wondered why the council has nine scrutiny committees. He thinks a maximum of three should be sufficient. This means six current scrutiny chairs stand to lose their SRAs of £12,689.

Then there is the matter of the Employment and HR Committee, which Kerslake said had “failed in its primary responsibility”, was not operating as it should do and had presided over a cataclysmic redundancy stampede under which anyone who wanted to leave the council was allowed to do so regardless of whether their particular skillset was still required.

This committee is to be “decommissioned”, which is a politically correct way of saying abolished. On the face of it therefore, Employment and HR Committee chair Cllr Mohammed Afzal will lose his hefty SRA which at £14,803 is substantially more than that paid to a scrutiny chair.

Kerslake also suggested the number of Birmingham city councillors should be reduced from 120 to 100, or even fewer, which means that at least 20 members may be booted out in 2017 and lose their allowances entirely.

One by-product of all this, incidentally, is that it reduces the ‘payroll vote’ – that is to say the number of Labour councillors reliant on the patronage of Sir Albert for executive positions and SRAs. Arguably this could make it harder for Sir Albert to see off leadership challenges, although that is something to be discussed at a later date.

Sir Bob’s review panel wasn’t the first body to pick up on the council’s rather generous SRA system.

Last year the independent remuneration panel that provides independent advice to the council on allowances proposed cutting SRAs by 18 per cent to save £100,000 a year. Like Sir Bob the panel also picked up on the amount paid to Cllr Afzal which it reckoned was far too much for the amount of work required and should be cut by 60 per cent.

The panel’s recommendations were not accepted by Sir Albert, or the leaders of the Liberal Democrat and Conservative groups Paul Tilsley and Robert Alden. Panel chair Sandra Cooper refused to reconsider, and an edgy stand-off between the panel and Sir Albert has been in place ever since.

This begs the question: who will decide the correct level of post-Kerslake special responsibility allowances? You can’t imagine the council will move into the ethically dangerous ground of proposing and approving its own allowances, although never say never with Birmingham.

One by one the recommendations in the Kerslake Review are being implemented, or a timetable for implementation is in force, and finally the ghastly truth is beginning to dawn on elected representatives: this is actually quite serious reform.

This is a complete about-turn from last December when the Kerslake Review was published. The immediate reaction from friends of council leader Sir Albert Bore then was not to worry because most of the recommendations weren’t mandatory and didn’t have to be implemented to the letter.

That was always a bit economic with the truth since one of Kerslake’s primary criticisms concerned the council’s historic failure to take difficult decisions and a liking for kicking the can down the road. Clearly, the Kerslake Review is one report that is never going to end up gathering dust on a Council House shelf however much some politicians pray that it will.

Laughably, I am told, it has taken some councillors two months to read and digest the Kerslake Review and when they have done so they realise the document is indeed a withering attack on poor performance over many years, which is something very different from the council spin of December.

Another significant change in the mood music is the increasingly influential role being played by council chief executive Mark Rogers, who next month ‘celebrates’ a year in post. Mr Rogers has taken charge of drawing up and implementing the Kerslake implementation plan which has yet to be approved by the independent improvement panel and Communities Secretary Eric Pickles.

Even Sir Albert Bore has taken recently to explaining that the responsibility for delivering on Kerslake’s recommendations rests with the chief executive not “the body politic”, which I’m guessing are words most people never thought they would hear from Sir Albert’s mouth.

This has not gone down well with Labour councillors who complain they have been excluded from drawing up a response to Kerslake. They wanted some of the recommendations to be challenged particularly those around reducing the size of the council.

That is understandable, but there really is little point in challenge. It must be pretty clear by now that the immediate destiny of Birmingham city council lies not in the hands of elected councillors but of an appointed improvement panel and Mr Eric Pickles.

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