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Homer steps out of the shadows as council throws ‘kitchen sink’ at improvement plan

Homer steps out of the shadows as council throws ‘kitchen sink’ at improvement plan

🕔16.Apr 2015

Sarah Homer, the change-management expert hired to shake up Birmingham city council, will step out from the shadows next week when she delivers a progress report to the cabinet, reports Paul Dale.

Although appointed interim director of service delivery in January at a cost of £1,100 a day with a wide-ranging remit to deliver the organisational and governance reforms set out in the Kerslake Review, Ms Homer’s public appearances have been rare.

She is working closely with chief executive Mark Rogers in delivering an improvement action plan based on Kerslake’s recommendations and overseeing the Future Council Programme – a strategy for the organisational changes that must take place if a smaller and leaner council is to function adequately.

The ultimate aim, according to Mr Rogers, is to make sure the council makes a positive difference every day “to the lives of people in this city” as it goes about its “organisational improvement journey”.

Next Monday’s cabinet meeting (April 20) will approve the future council change programme “as the single vehicle for addressing a range of internal and external change drivers”.

The effectiveness of Rogers and Homer is being monitored by the Birmingham Independent Improvement Panel under the chairmanship of John Crabtree. The panel reports directly to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government on the council’s progress.

The first monthly report by Mr Rogers on progress against the improvement plan states that there is “medium” confidence in delivering most of the measures.

However, the report has a red line for low confidence under the most important targets – changing the council’s ‘we know best’ culture, developing an effective vision for the future and working in partnership with other organisations and stakeholders.

Among Kerslake’s most worrying findings were poor leadership at the top of the council, the lack of a positive vision for the city and a tendency to sweep difficult issues under the carpet.

Mr Rogers and Ms Homer have issued a video to council staff in which they set out a “holistic and integrated” approach to the improvement plan, or as Mr Rogers says: “In plain English, the kitchen sink. Everything you need to know and everything you need to do in one place.”

In a written report in advance of her meeting with the cabinet, Ms Homer says she wants to “develop and embed a sustainable model for the future council underpinned by cultural and behaviour change”. The report continues:

This is driven by the need to modernise, meet the unprecedented financial challenge and redefine the role of the city council in ensuring the availability of services that best meet the priority needs of citizens and communities.

As well as the significant financial challenges facing the council, there are priorities and challenges in managing the impact of findings from a number of high profile external reviews. These are specifically around children’s services as well as the independent review of council wide service operations, culture and governance conducted by Sir Bob Kerslake.

The actions arising from these reports add further urgency to the progression of this programme. We need to take a whole-council view so that the impact of change in one part of the organisation on the rest is understood and we create, wherever possible, joined up solutions, leverage economies of scale and ensure consistency.

Birmingham city council is currently responding to a wide range of well documented internal and external drivers. Extraordinary financial pressure has been compounded by the findings of several high profile external reviews – the Le Grand safeguarding review, the Kershaw and Clarke education reports, and the Kerslake review on governance and organisational capabilities.

All have reached conclusions based on issues stretching back many years and across administrations. The council intends to create one strategic change framework by which it will oversee the necessary change to address these issues so that there is a single, straightforward narrative for citizens, members, partners and staff.

It will be challenging to join together all this work and manage it effectively; especially when a key element is that the Council needs to redefine its role and relationship with the city, its citizens and its partners.

We need to take a whole-council view so that the impact of change in one part of the organisation on the rest is understood and we create, wherever possible, joined up solutions so that we can leverage economies of scale and be consistent.

This will require everyone to support the activity and process to deliver a sustainable organisation that puts local people and communities at the heart of everything it does, and focuses on positive outcomes for citizens based on fairness, economic prosperity and democracy.

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