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Kerslake improvement panel to meet in public as council urged to embrace speedy reforms

Kerslake improvement panel to meet in public as council urged to embrace speedy reforms

🕔09.Feb 2015

The improvement panel appointed to make sure Birmingham city council acts on reforms set out in the Kerslake Report will meet in public at least four times a year, it has been confirmed.

Terms of reference approved by Communities Secretary Eric Pickles make it clear the panel must hold the council publicly to account for the progress it makes – and to take action if the pace of improvement is not fast enough.

It will meet once a month and may invite any council officials or councillors to be quizzed. Panel members can work on a one-to-one basis with councillors or council officers on any matters of importance.

The monthly meetings can be held in public or private. However, four quarterly meetings will always be in public.

The panel’s duties are to:

  • Sign off an improvement plan in response to recommendations in the Kerslake Report
  • Provide challenge and advice to the council as it follows its “improvement journey” in response to the Kerslake Report, particularly in relation to its timely implementation of that report’s recommendations
  • Provide a forum in which the council can be publicly held to account for the progress it makes
  • Provide a report in December 2015 to the Secretary of State on the progress the council is making, and such other reports as the Secretary of State may request.

The panel will be supported by a secretariat provided jointly by Birmingham council and the Department for Communities and Local Government. The panel’s expenses will be shared equally by the council and DCLG.

Birmingham city council chief executive Mark Rogers said: “The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has established the Birmingham Independent Improvement Panel to provide support and challenge to the city council as it undertakes the measures necessary to secure the improvements needed if it is to effectively and efficiently deliver local public services for all the city’s communities, give value for money for local taxpayers and promote growth and wellbeing across the city.”

Mr Pickles, or whoever is Secretary of State after the General Election, will need to be convinced by the panel’s reports that the council is making sufficient progress in addressing the severe criticism of its performance contained in Sir Bob Kerslake’s report.

Sir Bob’s review team found:

  • The council is not doing enough to provide leadership and set out a positive vision for Birmingham
  • Deep rooted problems have all too often been swept under the carpet under successive administrations
  • The council’s vision for the future of the city is neither broadly shared nor understood by officers, partners or residents
  • A damaging combination of an absence of a strategic plan and the lack of a corporate grip has created the space for a multiplicity of strategies, plans and processes which has created unnecessary complexity and confusion
  • The failure to form effective partnerships is creating significant problems for both the city and a wider area.

The Kerslake Report delivered a withering condemnation of the council’s HR department and the Employment and HR Committee. It found a failure to address huge reductions in staffing levels on a strategic basis, with no proper analysis of the size and type of workforce that might be needed in future.

As a result, key members of staff were allowed to depart with generous redundancy payments, leaving a serious skills shortage.

The report said the committee, chaired by Cllr Mohammed Afzal, had “failed in its primary responsibility” and “is not operating as it should”.

The council has sought to address Kerslake’s criticism of a lack of corporate grip by appointing Sarah Homer as interim director of service delivery with a remit to take leadership of the Future Council Programme which covers the redesign of support services, development of a workforce strategy particularly addressing the challenges around the recruitment and retention of children’s social workers and developing a new model for city devolution.

Her appointment sparked controversy when Chamberlain Files revealed that the council is paying £1,100 a day to an employment agency for Ms Homer’s services.

Council leader Sir Albert Bore is yet to address a key Kerslake recommendation that direct responsibility for all HR matters should be handed to “an existing cabinet member”. Cllr Afzal is not in the cabinet, but is a key political ally of Sir Albert, who will face a leadership challenge in May from Labour backbencher John Clancy.

The independent improvement panel is chaired by former Wragge senior partner and Birmingham Hippodrome chairman John Crabtree.

The other members are Frances Done, chair of the Youth Justice Board; Keith Wakefield, leader of Leeds city council; and Steve Robinson, chief executive of Cheshire West and Chester council.

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