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Devolution drive underway, but Amey looks tricky – Clancy’s half year report

Devolution drive underway, but Amey looks tricky – Clancy’s half year report

🕔01.Jun 2016

Chamberlain Files’ chief blogger Paul Dale continues his look at the manifesto pledges offered by new Birmingham city council leader John Clancy, and what’s been achieved after six months in office.


Our city’s devolution has to become based in the most local place. We must see that decisions about our local areas are being influenced, shaped and led fundamentally in our most local areas. Devolution should be reset to reflect this.

Decisions need to be seen to be and actually influenced, shaped and led locally by communities. They should also involve those who locally deliver services, together with the actual users of the services of the council. All of this needs to come mostly at ward level including rubbish and recycling, roads and pavements, trees, parks, lighting and keeping our city’s wards clean and safe.

We would look to appoint an initial shadow board of four local devolution leaders to start to enable this, working with existing district chairs. We would also look in the near future to appoint these devolution leaders as assistant leaders of the council with responsibility for overseeing and enabling real devolution

They will look to deliver models which work best in the parts of the city which they will oversee, to bring real devolution of the most local influence over services and provision, and of its governance, challenge and scrutiny.

These areas would be based as much on character, identity and need as geography.  They should not necessarily be based on the parliamentary boundaries at present. The challenges, opportunities and needs of Bartley Green, for example, are not necessarily those shared with Edgbaston ward; nor Shard End’s with, say, Bordesley Green.

The assistant leaders would challenge the council’s political and administrative leaders to deliver real devolution in whatever way works in their areas; and themselves to deliver local processes of real local challenge and influence over all public services at the best local level.

It is full steam ahead on this one, with Clancy using his cabinet reshuffle to confirm that the four assistant council leaders will be appointed in June to lead a devolution drive. He says he is committed to consultation and is determined to bring forward a cross-party view on how the control of services can be devolved to neighbourhood level. The only slight downside – opposition Tory and Liberal Democrats, as well as a substantial number of Labour councillors, are opposed to paying a special responsibility allowance to the assistant leaders.

The £2.7 billion Amey Contract

We must look to renegotiate the entire contract, working with the Highways Agency and the Department of Transport so that, instead of being seen as a city-wide contract, it actually becomes part of the devolution process.

The contract must effectively be folded into and be part of our devolution plans for local areas, especially at ward level.  One where councillors, in particular, have a real say in how these services are delivered and, as importantly, how they involve local people, businesses and other providers.

As with Capita and Service Birmingham, there’s more hard talk from Cllr Clancy and general banging of heads together behind the scenes, and a claim that Amey understand the need for change. But it will be a fiendishly complex exercise to unravel a contract of this scale and any changes will require the approval of the Department for Transport. If terms of the contract can’t be changed, the devolution of highways services to neighbourhood level will be at risk.

Champions and Deputies

We will look to continue the process of debate started already in the Labour group as to whether a move away from the current restrictive aspects of the cabinet and leader system would better serve our city and its devolution.

I have made my preferences clear over many years, but this will be for the group to decide. We will set up a formal review looking at what happens elsewhere and taking expert advice.

We would look in the interim, however, to develop a system which still involves more of our group in influencing the decision-making process. We would look to appoint deputy cabinet members to enhance and extend these current champion roles and more. It would also develop leadership and talent in the group for the future.

Following a thorough audit of the knowledge, life-skills, and professional backgrounds of the group we would look to link those who wish to take on appropriate advisory roles to cabinet members.

This was one of the key recommendations to flow from the Kerslake Review, handing more responsibility to backbenchers and helping them progress along a career path. Clancy plans to announce deputy cabinet members shortly. He has, though, been rather quiet about possibly replacing the cabinet with an old-style committee system.

An Open Data Council

I have been calling for this council to become an open data council for the past four years. We will move to a model of running and leading this city on the basis of transparency and co-operation with our own citizens, partners and businesses.

Personal protected data aside, the books and contracts and deals the city makes, and has made, will become a matter of public record. This will better enable citizens, partners and businesses to help us and the city make the right choices. It will also enable others to identify how better to run and lead our city and make the best and most efficient use of our limited resources.

There is now a cabinet member for transparency, openness and equality, with Waseem Zaffar taking on the role. As for the books and contracts and deals the council makes becoming a matter of public record, it is just possible this information exists on the council website, if only anyone knew how to find it.

Cabinet Member roles and titles that mean something

I still believe very few council employees, councillors or citizens have a sense of who is responsible for what in the political leadership of this council. We will return to clear descriptions that make sense and show who is responsible for what.

The cabinet reshuffle offered an opportunity to change job titles and responsibilities. Birmingham now has cabinet members for housing and homes; children, families & schools; health & social care; transport & roads, clean streets; recycling & the environment; value for money & efficiency; transparency, openness and equality; and jobs and skills.

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