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Bore: ‘I’ve met council improvement panel only once in six weeks’

Bore: ‘I’ve met council improvement panel only once in six weeks’

🕔06.Mar 2015

Sir Albert Bore has had only one meeting with the chairman of the Birmingham city council improvement panel since the board’s membership was announced on January 22, writes Paul Dale.

The council leader, speaking shortly before this week’s annual budget meeting, said the panel chair John Crabtree and vice-chair Frances Done were talking with council officers rather than politicians.

Mr Crabtree and Ms Done are meeting council chief executive Mark Rogers and his senior management team on at least a weekly basis, Sir Albert confirmed.

In an early show of strength the panel encouraged the council to move quickly to abolish the HR and Employment Committee, heavily criticised by Kerslake and described as “failing in its primary responsibilities”.

A decision to transfer executive responsibility for HR from the committee to cabinet members was taken at the council budget meeting rather than being delayed until the annual meeting in May.

Sir Albert said he expected the panel to hold a “politicians meeting” on March 17, a day before Mr Crabtree and his colleagues decide whether to sign off an action plan setting out how the council intends to implement recommendations for improvement contained in the Kerslake Review.

Establishing an independent improvement panel to provide the “robust challenge and support the council requires” was the first of Kerslake’s 11 recommendations and was immediately accepted by Communities Secretary Eric Pickles and the council.

A draft action plan published by Sir Albert earlier this month set out how the council would go about implementing a “magnanimous and humble” culture change with a new determination to work in partnership with other stakeholders and organisations in the city.

The panel will be keen to discover how the council intends to address key Kerslake criticisms including poor leadership, a tendency to sweep difficult problems under the carpet, absence of any understandable vision for the future and a failure to form effective partnerships.

Chamberlain Files understands the first meetings between the panel and senior council officers involved a forthright exchange of views, with Mr Crabtree and his colleagues fulfilling their remit to provide “robust” challenge.

Sir Albert said he was hopeful the action plan would be signed off on March 18, but he could not be certain. The panel had asked for some changes to the wording, he confirmed. He added:

The improvement panel are much more focused on partnership working rather than using the word ‘leadership’. There are nuances coming through.

The panel have looked for nuanced change rather than fundamental radical change in one or two aspects of the action plan. I hope the panel will sign off the action plan which is only slightly different to what you have seen.

They are keen to focus on getting together a group across the city that will focus on partnership rather than leadership.”

Sir Albert said he felt the Kerslake Review could turn out to be good for Birmingham and give the city an advantage over other authorities.

We are changing governance arrangements and I wonder whether Birmingham might be in the vanguard and that this is something to be picked up by others.

All local government is going to have to change. Birmingham could find itself very nicely in the vanguard and it may be we took the right decision to bring in Kerslake.”

The members of the Birmingham improvement panel are:

Chairman – John Crabtree
Chairman of Birmingham Hippodrome. A former senior partner of Birmingham law firm Wragge & Co., John is also a former High Sheriff of the West Midlands and former president of the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Vice-chairman – Frances Done
Frances was appointed Chair of the Youth Justice Board in February 2008 and re-appointed in January 2011, for a period of 3 years.

Keith Wakefield, Leader of Leeds City Council

Steve Robinson, Chief Executive of Cheshire West and Chester Council

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