Clancy hires assistant leaders to roll out ‘every place matters’ devolution plan
The latest in a long line of attempts by Birmingham city council to devolve decision making to neighbourhood level will take a step forward this weekend with the appointment of four politicians charged with rolling out a power to the people agenda.
Labour council leader John Clancy must decide who to have as his four assistant council leaders, with each one being given a remit to drive forward devolution in a specific part of the city.
The assistant leader positions carry a £10,000 salary, so there is unlikely to be any shortage of bidders before the deadline for applications closes this Friday.
Those selected for the job will work with a local leadership cabinet committee consisting of Birmingham’s ten district committee chairs as well as Clancy, another cabinet member, and the leaders of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat opposition groups.
Birmingham has been developing a devolution strategy since 2000, based on the premise that the sheer size of the city makes it inevitable that decision making confined to the “remote” Council House is not a good idea and that the process must be pushed back as far as possible to community level.
Previous attempts masterminded by former Labour council leader Sir Albert Bore essentially replaced the remote Council House with equally remote district committees based on Birmingham’s ten parliamentary constituencies – each one large enough in its own right to be a district council.
Each of the city’s 40 wards has its own committee, but generally only acting as an advisory body.
The district committees had budgets totalling millions of pounds and executive powers, in theory. But it soon became apparent that in the areas of greatest public concern, refuse collection and street cleaning, the committees’ hands were tied by one size fits all city-wide contracts which could not easily be changed to suit local requirements.
Clancy became council leader last December with a pledge that “every place and every citizen matters” and has said that Birmingham has plenty of aspiring community leaders who have not played a role in the past because they council has not encouraged them to do so.
The challenge he will set the assistant council leaders is to investigate ways in which decision making can be devolved as closely as possible to neighbourhood level. The term ‘neighbourhood’ is important because it reflects real communities, which may in some cases cut across ward boundaries.
Crucially on this occasion, the move to devolve power will be based on forming local partnerships. Post-Kerslake it is no longer a matter of the council knowing best, more of councillors facilitating community decision making bodies, almost taking a back seat and allowing local people to make truly local decisions.
A report to next week’s cabinet meeting, written by policy executive officer Tony Smith, a veteran of the Bore years, doesn’t hold back on aspiration:
The establishment of the cabinet committee and the assistant leader posts and the initiation of this work programme for the next phase of devolution provide an opportunity to develop a genuinely radical agenda for change.
Our ambition is to put Birmingham at the vanguard of reform and new ideas on local governance and community leadership, building on the tremendous diversity and vibrancy of our civil society and its social enterprises, community and voluntary organisations and restoring the reputation for good governance that once characterised the city.
It is a vision based on the idea of dispersed leadership in which everyone in the city can aspire to make a difference. It is a vision based on a new sense of pride and purpose and the unique character of Birmingham’s public life expressed through innovation, invention and true leadership.
It is a vision based on devolution from central government with new powers to act along with our West Midlands partners but also the empowerment of local communities and individuals in the city.
Each of the assistant leaders will be responsible for an area of the city, to be specified by the cabinet.
The cabinet committee will conduct a review of the existing devolved arrangements consulting and engaging with the community, other stakeholders and city councillors.
During the period of review local areas will be supported in bringing forward and piloting new ways of working in relation to devolved arrangements.
The assistant leaders with the cabinet committee will play a leading role in taking forward the following council strategic priorities:
- Conducting a local leadership review and reporting back to full council and the cabinet.
- Overseeing the development of area-focused policies and programmes to address inequalities between different parts of the city
- The committee will work to improve services in neighbourhoods and responsiveness to local communities and individual service users and to support local initiatives to improve the environment and street scene.
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