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Crabtree: I don’t underestimate..seriousness of this project and extent of work that needs to be done

Crabtree: I don’t underestimate..seriousness of this project and extent of work that needs to be done

🕔14.Jun 2015

The chairman of the independent improvement panel overseeing the Kerslake reforms has warned the serious nature of the issues facing Birmingham city council must not be under-estimated.

John Crabtree said he had heard the expression “last chance saloon” used about Birmingham’s plight and stressed the extent of the work required to turn the city around.

In a heartfelt speech at the end of the panel’s first public meeting Mr Crabtree, who was born in Birmingham and became a senior partner with Wragge & Co, said he and the business establishment had to take some blame for “keeping its head down” in the past rather than dealing with the council.

Lord Kerslake’s review published in December 2014 criticised the council’s failure to form effective partnerships which was creating “significant problems for both the city and wider area”.

The council had an attitude of: “if it’s worth doing, the council should be doing it”.

Mr Crabtree rejected any notion that Birmingham lacks capable leaders, but added that “people like me” had become part of the problem rather than the solution because they had simply found ways of working around or without the council rather than tackling the issues head on.

He urged Birmingham to seize “a unique opportunity” offered through the panel and Government support to put the city back at the forefront of local government.

Mr Crabtree said: “Unquestionably, we have the skills, the talent and the leadership available to us. I don’t doubt that for one moment.  I am also absolutely certain that we have the goodwill of everybody in the community, none of us want Birmingham to fail.

“As I say, we have contributed to the problem, rather than the solution, and it is up to all of us to work together to put things right… and to do so as a matter of urgency.

“And beyond that, with our magnificent roots , very much still with us today, as a non-conformist open city, our demographics as the youngest city in Europe and our rich diversity, we have a unique opportunity to develop a new model for today’s global city, to be in the forefront of local and regional government, and an example to the world, as we once were.”

Mr Crabtree went on to stress that the engagement of the media and their reporting of the improvement panel’s deliberations was “absolutely crucial” to the process of turning the council around.

The Crabtree speech in full:

This meeting has been very helpful to the panel and also hopefully to you the audience, to be able to hear directly from the leadership of the Council about its progress in implementing its improvement plan.

Speaking very personally now, when I read the Kerslake Report, I have to say that it all chimed with me.  The observations and criticisms rang through.  The issues raised to my mind, go back many years and certainly, for example, do not simply apply to this administration.

After I had accepted the post, I had the opportunity to read the notes of all the members of our community who had been interviewed by Lord Kerslake.  Their comments and views were very similar to my own thoughts, albeit probably a lot harsher, and they led me to one obvious and rather dispiriting conclusion, namely that people like me had become part of the problem as opposed to the solution. In other words, rather than addressing or dealing with the Council, for many years we have simply found ways of working without it or around it.

Unquestionably, we have the skills, the talent and the leadership available to us. I don’t doubt that for one moment.  I have thoroughly enjoyed working with these experts alongside me, but we shouldn’t need them.  I am also absolutely certain that we have the goodwill of everybody in the community, none of us want Birmingham to fail.

However, I don’t underestimate for one second, the seriousness of this project and the extent of the work that needs to be done.  I have heard people use the expression ‘the last chance saloon’.

And finally just to emphasise my views today, I don’t personally point the finger at Sir Albert or Cllr Ward or Mark Rogers who have been faced with an unprecedented financial challenge, but they are the people whose leadership we are relying on today. I point it at all of us, including myself. By us, I don’t mean of course people like you who have taken the trouble to be here today which is terrific, but all those senior members of the community who Lord Kerslake interviewed and who held similar sorts of views to my own.

As I say, we have contributed to the problem, rather than the solution, and it is up to all of us to work together to put things right… and to do so as a matter of urgency.

And beyond that, with our magnificent roots (very much still with us today) as a non-conformist open city, our demographics as the youngest city in Europe and our rich diversity, we have a unique opportunity to develop a new model for today’s global city, to be in the forefront of local and regional government, and an example to the world, as we once were.

Birmingham is a great city and it needs a great city Council.

Following this meeting the panel will be preparing a report to Greg Clark, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, giving our assessment of the Council’s progress.

We will publish our report and you will be able to see it on the Council’s website by the end of July.

We’ve fixed a date for our next Public meeting which will be on the 11th September.

Finally, thanks to all of you who have attended and participated, the three Leaders, Ian and Mark and especially the Press who are here with us today.  Their engagement and reporting of this process is absolutely crucial.

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