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Bore accused of ‘running scared’ over Kerslake, as Cllr Afzal feels the heat

Bore accused of ‘running scared’ over Kerslake, as Cllr Afzal feels the heat

🕔19.Dec 2014

It was the widest ranging inquiry ever staged into Birmingham Council’s performance, but city councillors won’t have an opportunity to debate the Kerslake Review any time soon.

Labour council leader Sir Albert Bore has decided not to place the highly critical study on the agenda for the January full council meeting.

It is thought unlikely that Sir Bob Kerslake’s review will be discussed at the February, March or April council meetings either, unless there is a change of heart.

Sir Albert rejected attempts by Conservatives on the Council Business Management Committee to make time for a debate on Kerslake and indicated that the controlling Labour group’s response to the review’s recommendations may not emerge until the annual council meeting in May.

The review, set up jointly by Communities Secretary Eric Pickles and Sir Albert, saw Sir Bob deliver 11 recommendations including a plan to appoint an independent improvement panel “to provide the robust challenge and support the council needs” to improve.

The review found that the council had failed to take big strategic decisions collectively over many years and had no shared vision for the future of Birmingham.

There was also criticism of a failing devolution policy and a lack of proper HR workforce planning with the result that many of the best officers had been allowed to take early retirement with enhanced redundancy payments.

Mr Pickles has accepted Sir Bob’s recommendations including a plan to reduce the number of city councillors and to re-elect the whole council once every four years rather than by one-third a year. He’s also ordered the council to publish a report in December 2015 setting out how it has responded to the review.

Robert Alden, leader of the opposition Conservative group, accused Sir Albert of “running scared” by refusing to allow the report to be discussed in public.

Cllr Alden added: “It will leave the biggest changes to the council in 40 years with no public discussion. This type of discussion and cross-party involvement is exactly what the report says the council needs to do more of, not less.”

One of the most difficult aspects of the report for Sir Albert will be withering criticism of the employment committee, which is chaired by Mohammed Afzal, a key supporter of the council leader.

Sir Albert will be challenged again for the Labour group and council leadership in May by backbench Quinton councillor John Clancy, and will rely on Cllr Afzal to drum up support for the Bore leadership among Asian councillors.

Cllr Afzal told a meeting of the employment committee this week that only Sir Bob’s first two recommendations – setting up an improvement panel and publishing a progress report – were mandatory and that the council could choose to accept or reject the remaining recommendations.

He did not believe there was any need for the employment committee to act differently and he refused to place an item on the Kershaw Review to be placed on the agenda for the next meeting.

Sir Bob found the employment committee had “failed in its primary responsibility”, was “not operating as it should”, had an “obsession” with micro-managing recruitment, and there was no evidence of proper workforce planning.

He recommended that Cllr Afzal’s duties should be transferred to a cabinet member and that the employment committee should simply act as a scrutiny body.

In a damning passage, the Kerslake Review noted: “Instead of a workforce strategy based on an analysis of what capacity the council will need in the future headcount reductions have been determined by the individual decisions of those staff who have chosen to take up the offer of a generous severance package.

“We were consistently told that the voluntary redundancy scheme has resulted in a loss of good staff and institutional memory. Because of a lack of workforce planning and a failure to reshape roles, the staff who remain feel they are doing the job of two or more people.

“The first function listed in the committee’s terms of reference is ‘holding management to account for the development of the council workforce strategy’.  The committee must therefore ask itself why, to use the Leader’s words, BCC has ‘not given enough attention to how we manage staff reductions and plan[ing] the workforce we will need in the future’ and that there is no workforce strategy.”

Kerslake was also critical of the absence of a high-ranking officer to oversee HR: “Birmingham city council should appoint a senior person to lead people change and workforce planning. This individual should be responsible for the development of the workforce plan the Leader has stated is needed, revising existing HR policies and, with the corporate leadership team, ensuring these are applied corporately.”

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