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Bore and Rogers risk backbench revolt over Kerslake response

Bore and Rogers risk backbench revolt over Kerslake response

🕔11.Feb 2015

Elected members of Birmingham city council will play no direct role in drawing up an improvement plan following the highly critical Kerslake Review of the authority’s governance capabilities.

Responsibility for devising and pushing through an implementation plan required by Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has been placed in the hands of council chief executive Mark Rogers.

The move has distanced councillors from having their say on how the 11 recommendations in Sir Bob Kerslake’s report should be tackled.

Mr Rogers’ central role emerged in a Chamberlain Files interview with city council leader Sir Albert Bore, who declared: “Very few parts of the action plan will be other than the responsibility of the chief executive”.

Sir Albert added that most of Kerslake’s recommendations, particularly those addressing apparent confusion between the proper roles of councillors and officers, were not a matter for “the body politic” to take a view on.

He confirmed that a draft plan approved by himself and Mr Rogers is already in the hands of the improvement panel set up as a result of the Kerslake Review and could be made public within days.

His comments are likely to fuel further anger in the controlling Labour group where backbench councillors have complained about being left out. Many have pointed out that Sir Bob’s report stated that the response to the review should be “owned” by the entire council.

Tory and Liberal Democrat councillors are also annoyed at being excluded from the process.

Sir Albert refused to place the Kerslake Review on the agenda for last month’s full council meeting and a brief debate took place only after opposition councillors tabled an emergency resolution.

Asked about the process for pulling together the action plan, Sir Albert said:

What are members of the council and members of the Labour group expecting to see in this action plan? Should this be an action plan by members or an action plan by officers?

What if there were to be an action in the plan which was about issuing a memo to members and officers about their respective roles and the engagement between members and officers? Is that something that needs to concern the body politic or is it something that the chief executive might deal with?

Is it for members of the council to put together? No, it’s for the chief executive to put together.

There will be very few parts of the action plan that will be other than the responsibility of the chief executive. And the responsibility for some parts of the Kerslake Review, like forming a combined authority, will be influenced by events elsewhere.

Chamberlain Files asked Sir Albert whether he accepted the main criticism in the Kerslake Review, in particular:

  • The council is not doing enough to provide leadership and set out a positive vision for the city
  • Deep rooted problems are all too often swept under the carpet under successive administrations
  • The current devolution arrangements are confused and very few people understand them
  • The council’s vision for the future of the city is neither broadly shared nor understood by officers, partners or residents
  • A damaging combination of an absence of a strategic plan and lack of a corporate grip has created the space for a multiplicity of strategic plans and processes which has created unnecessary complexity and confusion.

Sir Albert said he was “not going to say yes or no” to the question and he was not being “evasive” but it was a matter of how Sir Bob’s remarks were interpreted. Birmingham had a “hierarchy of plans” but Sir Bob did not view these in the same way as the city council, Sir Albert said.

Some of Sir Bob’s recommendations have already been acted upon by the council.

These include establishing an independent improvement panel, appointing Sarah Homer as interim director of service delivery, moving the council to all-out elections once every four years and undertaking a Boundary Commission review of wards and the size of the council.

Changes to the council’s devolved arrangements, including new roles for district and ward committees, will be implemented after May.

Sir Albert believes there will be “some leeway” over tackling the rest of Kerslake’s recommendations. He said criticism over the absence of a cabinet member to deal with HR matters was unjustified.

Sir Bob had not understood the council constitution which specifically placed responsibility for a range of HR matters with Ian Ward, the deputy leader. “I did point this out to Bob,” Sir Albert added.

Sir Albert said:

Are you asking me to accept every dot and comma of the Kerslake report? There are dots and commas I want to discuss with the improvement panel. There is leeway to do things that deliver on the general thrust of the report but might add a slight colour to it.

He continued:

The improvement panel is now formed. The chief executive and I met three of the four members last week and we have approved an action plan. I am hoping to get it into the public domain as quickly as possible.

In my discussions with the improvement panel they are trying to be helpful. The action plan is now with them. They need to be able to sign it off before it goes public.

I know all of the members of the improvement panel very well and have a good working relationship with them. I want to build it so the panel is moving things forward, not in a disruptive way.

I hope we can bring the action plan into the public domain pretty soon, it will be disappointing if we don’t.  It might be available as early as next week with a bit of luck. Early March by the latest.

The council leader insisted that many of the issues picked up by Sir Bob were being tackled.

In the past 18 months we have got a grip on children’s safeguarding in a way that the previous administration did not do. We haven’t got everything sorted but we are in the right direction of travel and have a good relationship with Lord Warner. The extra money we have put in is helping.

We are all on the same page.

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