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Celebrations on hold for Birmingham leader

Celebrations on hold for Birmingham leader

🕔01.Dec 2016

For anyone else notching up exactly one year in a top job, it might provide an opportunity to sit back and celebrate all that’s been achieved. Not so for Birmingham council leader John Clancy.

One year ago, John Clancy was setting out on his first day as leader of Birmingham city council. It was a job for which he had long challenged and which he had secured by just one vote. By any measure, he has confounded critics and won new friends across the city and beyond. He has brought a new approach to an office which had (ahem) enjoyed the unique characters of Councillors Whitby and Bore for many years.

But the fundamental issues facing his council remain. The Kerslake Review continues to hang over the Council like a dark cloud and the Improvement Panel which followed in its wake are not going anywhere.

Last Saturday, the Birmingham Labour group of councillors met to discuss the next annual budget. They will meet again this Saturday in another attempt to rally behind a budget plan ahead of a full Council meeting next Tuesday.

There is confidence that the Group will agree a budget, but questions remain over whether such a budget will be deliverable and over the ability of the finance department to meet the challenge underlined by John Crabtree’s improvement panel. John Clancy will highlight, in particular, the savings he is making in the Service Birmingham contract as a key example of the progress he is making.

Council staff gathered at the Birmingham Hippodrome yesterday to discuss the “future of the Council.” John Clancy told them housing, jobs and skills and health were the main priorities for the local authority. He said there was no point waiting for government to invest in Birmingham, telling staff: “we have to go out and bring ‘shovel-ready’ capital to build homes.”

Chief Executive Mark Rogers also addressed staff and gave what was described as a ‘clear steer’ that the corporate centre would have to be scaled back.

One of John Clancy’s first acts as leader was to establish better cross party working relationships than his predecessor. It is something for which the Improvement Panel has praised the parties. But the difficulties over delivering a balanced budget is too good an opportunity for the Conservative Group, not least as they prepare for all out elections in 2018 as well as the prospect of working with a Conservative mayor of the West Midlands.

Birmingham City Council Conservative Group is to move a motion of no confidence in the Council leadership at next week’s council meeting.

Cllr Robert Alden (Con, Erdington) Leader of the Conservative Group, said:

The Leader and Deputy Leader have overseen a projected overspend of at least £49m in the current year, leading to a further £78m of savings that need to be found in 2017/18, with serious doubts over many of the savings proposals they have previously put forward for future years as well ones abandoned in previous years.

Every Council up and down the country is facing financial challenges resulting from shrinking budgets and increasing demand, yet nowhere is failing to deliver on its own plans on anywhere near the same scale as Birmingham. There is a simple reason for this and that is they set a budget that allowed them to, more or less, live within their means, backed up by savings plans that were based on what could actually be achieved rather than plucking numbers out of the air and hoping that something turned up.

The motion is supported by a long charge sheet, led by the failure to deliver savings from integrated health and social care.

The Conservatives go on to say:

The Council’s inability to produce a balanced budget has led to the need for an independent review of the 2017/18 budget and long term financial plan. It has also led to the Council’s external auditors issuing a statutory recommendation under the Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014 due to its own serious concerns regarding the Council’s current and forecast financial position.

The Council’s financial position is symptomatic of the wider failings in leadership in the organisation. Two years on from the Council being given 12 months to sort itself out following the Kerslake report, the Independent Panel have confirmed their recommendation that they should remain in Birmingham due to the slow pace of change.

Despite being well into the third year of a three year improvement plan in children’s services, Ofsted have confirmed that serious and widespread failings remain in services to help and protect children. Children are not kept safe and not enough is being done to protect them from harm.

Despite rejecting a Conservative proposal to convert to a Trust model to help secure a step change in performance, the Administration were forced to accept this move a little over two months later when it became clear they could not offer the leadership required to deliver the change required. Millions of pounds have been spent on consultants in children’s services to support improvement that has not gone fast enough or far enough.

Cllr Robert Alden added:

In moving this motion of no confidence, the Conservatives do not pretend that the financial position of local government is anything but challenging. But in such times it is more important than ever that there is strong leadership able to deliver it duties to the residents of this great city. Time and again the current leadership have shown themselves incapable of doing just that and in failing to do so have made the financial challenge much greater.

Councillor Clancy will, perhaps, allow himself a few minutes today to reflect on the last twelve months. But the challenges, financial and political, social and economic, remain significant.

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