Improvement panel to stand back, but council warned over ‘regrettable’ slow pace of reform
The Birmingham Independent Improvement Panel is proposing to take a six-month break to give city council leaders space to deliver wide-ranging culture change set out in the Kerslake Review.
In a cautious report to Communities Secretary Greg Clark, panel chair John Crabtree says the council is making progress on the path to reform but much more remains to be done to deliver Lord Kerslake’s recommendations in full.
He pays tribute to a change of emphasis since John Clancy took over as council leader from Sir Albert Bore last December, in particular Cllr Clancy’s commitment to “engage constructively with a wide range of partners across the city” and to give the chief executive Mark Rogers the space to manage and see through the council’s transformation agenda.
If Mr Clark agrees, the panel will cease to meet formally until the autumn, although Mr Crabtree and panel vice-chair Frances Done will monitor progress and intervene if necessary.
In his letter Mr Crabtree says it is “regrettable” that the council has not progressed farther along the path to reform and that the impact of the Kerslake reforms “is less than was planned for”.
He adds that although the pace of progress has picked up, the changes have” not yet had the required impact, or become embedded”.
The panel is encouraged by the political and managerial leadership’s commitment to its improvement programmes.
It is regrettable that the long delays in building senior management capacity and in initiating and seeing through some of the major changes needed has resulted in the council being unable to demonstrate widespread positive impact fifteen months after the Kerslake Review was published.
The panel says it wants to be certain the council can “deliver on its commitment to sweep away all residual, over-complex, old-fashioned, time-consuming and risk-averse processes that are continuing to stifle creativity and which sap the capacity and energy of managers and staff.” Mr Crabtree said:
Since the change in the council’s leadership in December 2015 the new leader, Cllr Clancy, has acted on his early commitment to engage constructively with a wide range of partners across the city and to give the chief executive and the corporate leadership team the space to manage and see through the council’s transformation agenda.
But with the newly strengthened senior management team only in place since January 2016 there are still many crucial improvements that have not yet been achieved. The panel cannot yet be confident about the sustainability of the council’s progress.
However, we believe that the political and managerial leadership of the council should now be given the chance to work together and demonstrate the council’s ability to deliver the change and improvement needed, without the current level of intervention.
This is why the panel is recommending to the Secretary of State that the panel should stand back for a period, and return in the autumn to undertake a further review of progress.
The panel also draws attention to the risks facing the council in relation to its long term financial strategy, where budget reductions of around £250 million are planned over four years.
It highlights the difficulty the council will face in 2017-18, where the savings proposed depend heavily on the success of integrating health and social care and on major changes to the pay and conditions of the workforce, which are likely to be controversial.
The letter states that the recently strengthened corporate leadership team, with three new permanent team members in place since January, is continuing to establish the “much-needed foundations for future improvement”.
The panel warns that the council must concentrate on becoming a “modern, agile, empowering, engaging, learning and listening body”. The letter continues:
Much has been done to take forward the improvement agenda, many important milestones have been reached, many of the right foundations are in place and many of the right messages have been set out.
But, regrettably, feedback from staff and partners, while encouraging and positive in many respects, makes clear that the impact is, as yet, less than was planned for.
The panel points out that the council has failed to achieve 14 per cent of savings required in the current year and there is “cause for concern” over budget reduction proposals from 2016-17 to 2019-20:
The budget reduction requirements include two particularly challenging proposals, which together represent about 64 per cent of the overall savings set out for 2017-18.
Workforce cost reductions of £18 million, which entail proposed changes to employment terms and conditions, and adult social care cost reductions of £30 million based on redesigning and integrating services across the local health and social care economy.
In a joint statement the three group leaders Councillors Clancy (Lab), Robert Alden (Con) and Jon Hunt (Lib Dem) together with Mark Rogers, Chief Executive of Birmingham City Council, said:
We accept in full the improvement panel’s latest assessment which sets out our progress to date against the recommendations made in the Kerslake report. The panel’s belief that it should end the current level of intervention, cease to meet and stand back to enable the council to focus even more sharply on continued improvement is welcome news.
We would also very much welcome them back to review our progress at some point in the near future, as they suggest. The advice and support they propose to offer in the interim would also be very helpful.
The panel has stated we must build further momentum – and that is precisely our intention. We accept there is still more work to be done and at a faster pace. Therefore, we have no intention of taking our foot off the gas and we will be concentrating on ensuring sustained change across the whole organisation and, more importantly, delivering the best quality services and outcomes for our residents.
There is a collective commitment to restore the city council’s reputation and help Birmingham realise its full potential, working with partners across all areas to continue this pace of change and improvement.
- The panel was established in January 2015 and its members are John Crabtree (chair), Frances Done (vice chair), Cllr Keith Wakefield (former leader of Leeds City Council), and Steve Robinson (chief executive of Cheshire West and Chester Council).
- The total time spent on panel activities by panel members from January 2015 to March this year has been calculated at 290 days.
- The cost of the panel so far totals £110,480, including remuneration and travelling expenses, and will be met equally by the city council and the Department for Communities and Local Government.
- Mr Crabtree and Mr Robinson have not received payment for their work on the panel.
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