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Dear John: ‘Birmingham has listened, I have listened’, Albert ‘gets’ Kerslake after all

Dear John: ‘Birmingham has listened, I have listened’, Albert ‘gets’ Kerslake after all

🕔07.Sep 2015

Birmingham city council leader Sir Albert Bore says he is fully behind the Kerslake Review reform programme and that the pace of culture change at the Council House is being stepped up.

In a lengthy, sometimes very personal and even contrite letter to the improvement panel overseeing a wide-ranging change programme, Sir Albert candidly admits that he could have moved more quickly but says the public and organisations will soon notice a big difference as the council drops its ‘we know best attitude’ and moves to a listening mode.

Three months ago, the panel reported to Communities Secretary Greg Clark saying it was unconvinced that Sir Albert and senior colleagues understood the scale of culture change required.

That raised speculation the Government might be forced to intervene directly in the running of the council if the pace of change did not quicken by the end of the year.

In his latest letter to panel chair John Crabtree, Sir Albert says he has listened to the criticism and as a result the council is sharpening its focus and picking up the pace.

Sir Albert said:

I am personally really pleased with the progress we have all made in the last couple of months or so, especially since we last met with you at the public meeting in June and following the publication of your last letter in July.

And I trust that you will recognise those endeavours, not only by myself and the cabinet, but also by the chief executive and his team of senior officers; the wider group of staff pushing forward and hard on this agenda; and our partners who are working with us and helping us to improve not only the city council but the city as a whole.

He references setting up the West Midlands Combined Authority as an example of the council’s new approach to forming partnerships:

Birmingham has listened, I have listened, and in relation to partnerships and particularly the Combined Authority, far from placing ourselves front and centre we have continued to play a strategic and instrumental role from a more supportive and background position, not only with other local authorities but Government and our business colleagues.

The key challenge…..is for the council to change, and be seen to change, the way it has previously behaved by moving towards a default forward looking, inclusive and less controlling approach. We believe there is evidence of change.

I trust that you will be convinced of our commitment to change, both in terms of scale and pace; our genuine efforts to work in collaboration with as many of those that have a stake in the city council and the city as possible in an environment of mutual respect, which is open and outward looking, to improve the quality of life of the citizens of Birmingham, which has to be everyone’s ultimate goal.

There’s also a heartfelt plea asking Mr Crabtree to be honest if he doesn’t think the council is heading in the right direction:

If we are not on the right path then please work with us and guide us in the right direction. We are working harder and smarter to deliver the new form of local government and partnerships that the city both requires and deserves.

But we are also willing to listen to and learn from others in order to deliver changes that will have the most positive impact possible for our citizens.

The letter lists several initiatives including forming an independent leadership group demanded by Kerslake to work with the council and oversee change.

The body, called Birmingham Partners, is described by Sir Albert as a steering group, “led by a collection of committed partners who volunteered to take the initiative and also to work with us” and is developing a “what makes Birmingham great” campaign.

The letter refers to 43 partners who it is said are prepared “to lead conversations, host events, provide information and become part of a communications team for ‘Birmingham Partners”.

Although deputy council leader Ian Ward said he was keen to avoid relying on “the usual suspects”, there are some familiar names in the Birmingham Partners group including the Chamber of Commerce, Birmingham Education Partnership, Birmingham Children’s Hospital, Aston University, Birmingham City University and the University of Birmingham, Birmingham Council for Voluntary Service.

You can read all our coverage following the Kerslake Review here, including a three-part feature on progress up to the summer on his eleven recommendations due for completion by December 2015.

Sir Albert said one of Kerslake’s key recommendations, recruiting senior officials to assist chief executive Mark Rogers, was being addressed:

The panel’s last letter reiterated concerns it had about the slow progress in boosting senior management capacity and we recognise, in retrospect, that we could have moved more swiftly.

We now are now fully in the throes of recruiting to the posts of assistant chief executive, strategic director change and support services and strategic director employment and skills.

It’s also emerged that an interim strategic communications officer at assistant director level has been appointed and began work last week. The identity of the person is not revealed, but the new appointee was named as James Flynn by chief executive Mark Rogers in response to a question posed by Chamberlain Files.

The official will work with outside consultants to develop “an honest, balanced and compelling narrative for Birmingham”, Sir Albert said.

He added:

We have, over the summer, engaged external advisors to develop with us a strategic communications plan that will aim to reframe the way the city council comes across to the public, building on our strengths, such as economic performance, diversity, and honestly and openly highlighting our effectiveness in delivering improvements in children’s safeguarding, education and corporate governance.

The “external advisors” are understood to be London-based Westbourne Communications.

The council is working with financial consultants Deloitte to develop ways of delivering a further £250 million of savings demanded by the Government. The work involves developing a “demand analysis model” to identify how the council should prioritise spending in future.

Sir Albert said 230 “demand management opportunities” had been and were being developed into “cases for change” that will be opened up for wider consideration with members, staff, stakeholders, partners and citizens. Public consultation on planned savings will begin in November ahead of a draft 2016-17 council budget being published in December.

Chamberlain Files will have further analysis on the latest progress report to the Improvement Panel during the day and we will be covering the ‘sell out’ public meeting on Friday

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