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Improvement Panel to remain following ‘serious setback’

Improvement Panel to remain following ‘serious setback’

🕔20.Sep 2017

The Birmingham Independent Improvement Panel (BIIP) will remain in place following the recent political crisis at the Council House until necessary changes to “culture and governance are truly embedded at the council,” writes Kevin Johnson. 

In an update letter to the Communities Secretary, Panel chair John Crabtree OBE says there has been a “serious setback” to the progress last reported just over a month ago.

The Panel had written to Sajid Javid on 4th August saying that the council was making good progress and that, whilst risks remain, it recommended a suspension of its work. Its Vice Chair, Frances Done, was to have remained in close touch with the council, particularly in relation to its financial management.

READ: Communities Secretary asks for urgent update

The Panel’s latest letter explains to the Secretary of State that there has been a serious setback.

Mr Crabtree explained that following the industrial dispute over waste reform, “questions had arisen about the conduct of the Leader of the Council, and whether it constituted a breach of the Council’s constitution and its Member Code of Conduct.”

Mr Crabtree indicates that the Panel wants to see faster progress in the election and appointment of permanent people at the top of the council:

We await further information about the timetable for this election. However it would clearly be very beneficial for the leadership of the Council to be resolved and a permanent Chief Executive to be appointed as early as possible.

The Panel was established following the Kerslake Review of Birmingham city council’s governance. In that time, the council has lost two leaders and a chief executive. It currently has both an interim leader and interim chief executive.

The Panel clearly remains concerned at the financial position of the council, telling Mr Javid:

These risks to the Council’s remain significant and maintaining a relentless focus on achieving the 2017/18 revenue budget and preparing for the 2018/19 budget could prove to be an even greater challenge for the Council in the current circumstances.

Mr Crabtree added:

A new Leader will be elected and in the coming months the Council hope to appoint a permanent Chief Executive, and to make permanent appointments to other key senior manager roles, including the Corporate Director of Finance.

At the same time the Council has recognised, as we explained in our previous letter, that it still has a great deal of  ‘catch up’ work to do for the Council to function with fully effective corporate governance and major change programmes to modernise its key services over the next five years.

Chamberlain Files understands that nominations for Labour group leader in Birmingham will close at 6.00pm tonight (Wednesday). There is speculation there will only be one candidate.

Meanwhile, the selection battle for Labour nominations for the all-out election in May is hotting up. Councillors Kerry Jenkins and Barry Bowles are amongst those who will not be standing for Labour in Hall Green next Spring.

A judgement in the High Court case between Birmingham city council and Unite the union is expected at 11.00am this morning. The case centres on whether the local authority was able to issue redundancy notices to Grade 3 Leading Hands in Waste Management following the “agreement in principle” struck by former council leader John Clancy with Unite’s Howard Beckett at Acas.

Regardless of the outcome, the case has encapsulated the embarrassment over governance at the council in the negotiations conducted by Cllr Clancy.

Meanwhile, Unite members have voted overwhelmingly for further strike action of up to three months.

Chamberlain Files understands that informal meetings with chief executive candidates have been postponed following the resignation of Cllr Clancy.

Councillor Ian Ward, Interim Leader of Birmingham city council, reacted to the Improvement Panel’s latest letter saying:

I will continue to work with the Improvement Panel to achieve the best possible outcomes for Birmingham and its citizens. I look forward to further detailed discussions regarding the next stages of our improvement journey.

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