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Clark ‘encouraged’ by Kerslake progress, but next three months ‘critical’ for Birmingham

Clark ‘encouraged’ by Kerslake progress, but next three months ‘critical’ for Birmingham

🕔20.Jan 2016

Communities Secretary Greg Clark has said he is ‘encouraged’ by Birmingham city council leader John Clancy’s “clear commitment to fully implement” the Kerslake recommendations.

But Mr Clark also warned the next three months “will be critical to see these words put into action”.

In a letter to Birmingham Independent Improvement Panel chair John Crabtree, Mr Clark made it clear he believed the council was picking up the pace on delivering the required reforms under its new leader, in particular a key Kerslake recommendation that the authority must work far more effectively in partnership and stop believing it always knows best.

He listed three crucial areas where he wants to see evidence that further progress is being made:

  • Successfully setting the authority’s long-term financial strategy in the contest of £250 million of spending reductions by 2020.
  • Seeing a real change in the way the council works with partners, taking a genuine transparent and collaborative approach.
  • The chief executive and the senior officer team grasping the opportunity the leader has given them to fully manage the delivery of the agreed policy and plans set by him.

Mr Clark ends his letter with a reminder that the improvement panel must keep in regular touch and inform him if there is any development that suggests the council is falling behind in delivering the Kerslake reforms.

The letter from the Communities Secretary, dated January 17, is Mr Clark’s response to the panel’s latest report on council progress which noted improvement since Cllr Clancy became leader on December 1.

It is in marked contrast to a letter to the panel sent by Mr Clark at the end of last summer which hinted that the Government was considering further intervention in Birmingham because the council’s change agenda had stalled.

During 2015 the panel released critical reports suggesting that the former council leader Sir Albert Bore and his close allies did not understand or even accept the Kerslake recommendations.

Addressing the main scrutiny committee yesterday Cllr Clancy said it was important for the council to reach out and form genuine partnerships with communities and other organisations. For far too long the council had “done things to people rather than done things with people”.

Cllr Clancy added: “I don’t think the city council is necessarily the answer.”

He claims to have empowered senior council officers for the first time in years, telling chief executive Mark Rogers on his first day in office that it was Mr Rogers’ job to run Birmingham, not the job of the council leader.

He promised to bring the business community back on board in helping to shape Birmingham after years of frustration when firms felt there was little point trying to work with the council.

“The business community is absolutely crucial to civic society in Birmingham. They have been getting on with things in their own areas, they haven’t been coming to the council and saying ‘how can we assist you, how can we partner up?’”

Cllr Clancy also expanded on his radical plan to unlock billions of pounds from the West Midlands Local Government Pension Fund, using the money to invest in new housing, as well as a scheme by the council to raise money by selling “Brummie Bonds” to investors.

The bonds proposal was welcomed by the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce, although details about how the scheme would operate are yet to be worked out.

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