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Birmingham makes The World at One as Kerslake promises to ‘hold council’s feet to the fire’

Birmingham makes The World at One as Kerslake promises to ‘hold council’s feet to the fire’

🕔09.Dec 2014

Birmingham made the lead item on BBC Radio 4’s The World at One programme today, which was a very rare event indeed, writes Paul Dale. 

Unfortunately, the content could hardly be described as helpful to the city’s attempts to promote itself since it focused on Sir Bob Kerslake’s devastating report exposing Birmingham city council’s deep rooted problems.

Presenter Martha Kearney asked:

What’s gone wrong in Britain’s second city?

A synopsis of the Kerslake Review followed which described Birmingham city council as a dysfunctional body failing repeatedly to tackle serious failure in children’s social services and with a propensity to sweep serious problems under the carpet.

Listeners were told the council has no credible plan to tackle its budgetary difficulties and is in the habit of failing to address problems until a full blown crisis is at hand.

And just to underline a picture of abject failure, Birmingham’s economy has been outpaced by the likes of Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds with most of the new jobs that are coming on stream out of the reach of poorly educated and under-skilled Brummies.

In his report Sir Bob does not mince his words, hitting out at poor decision making over many years, lack of a shared vision, a paternalistic approach to partnership and a failure to take collectively the big strategic decisions.

His public utterances since then suggest a certain amount of back-peddling.

Sir Bob attended a private meeting of all 120 Birmingham city councillors this morning. Some of those present described his performance as under-stated, almost conciliatory.

Interviewed on The World at One, Sir Bob insisted that his report was not top-down Whitehall interference. It was, instead, a “local government-led review”.

He conceded, however, that a proposed independent panel to be charged with devising a new City Plan would “hold Birmingham city council’s feet to the fire and make sure they improve in the way we think is necessary”.

Recommendations that an improvement board should be set up were just suggestions and it would be up to the council to “take the lead” and consider the next steps carefully.

Whether Communities Secretary Eric Pickles regards the Kerslake Review recommendations as mere suggestions remains to be seen. Mr Pickles has suggested the council “get on with it” and added: “This report makes clear that Birmingham risks losing its status as our second city for good if it does not start taking common sense steps to improve its performance now.”

Sir Albert Bore, the Labour leader of Birmingham city council, rebuffed suggestions that his position might be in danger. He pointed out that Sir Bob’s report had praised “strong leadership” displayed by Sir Albert and chief executive Mark Rogers.”

He also stressed that Birmingham’s problems go back many years and that blame cannot be laid solely at the feet of his administration. “We have been tackling many of these problems and tackling them very well,” he insisted.

Mr Rogers, meanwhile, got his retaliation in early. In an email to council staff the night before the Kerslake Review was published he said:

These are, indeed, tough and testing times for the city council. We have been reviewed and inspected pretty much constantly since the autumn of 2013 and much of what has been reported has been challenging and, often, highly critical.

However, we have been responding maturely to all that has been played back to us, recognising that if the patient is to get better then, first, the various ailments must be properly diagnosed in order that appropriate treatments can be prescribed.

With the publication of Sir Bob’s report the time has come to move on from a prolonged period of diagnosis to a sustained treatment. We will need to produce a response to the Kerslake report, and will aim to turn that around quickly at the start of 2015.

Then we can focus on making the improvements we need to deliver to ensure that we make a positive difference every day to people’s lives across this great city of ours.

It is certainly a difficult time here in the city council but, to use the very old cliché, when to the going gets tough, the tough get going.

So, I look forward to working with you all and rising to the challenges ahead and showing our citizens – as well as the Government – exactly what we’re capable of. Namely, that we will make this city council great again.

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