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Kerslake plan gets the Trotsky treatment – airbrushed from history

Kerslake plan gets the Trotsky treatment – airbrushed from history

🕔19.Feb 2015

Don’t mention Kerslake! I may have done so a few times recently, but I think I got away with it.

From now on and for time evermore the K-word is to be banished from Birmingham.

An improvement plan which emerged from the review of the local authority’s governance capabilities by Sir Bob Kerslake has been re-branded the Future Council plan by city council chief executive Mark Rogers, who says it is not helpful to keep going on about Kerslake.

Sir Bob, who retires as Permanent Secretary at DCLG later this month, has in the words of Mr Rogers “handed the baton over” to John Crabtree, chair of the independent improvement panel established in response to the very first recommendation of the Kerslake Review (sorry, Future Council review) to provide the “robust challenge and support the council needs”.

Mr Rogers, in his ‘Movin’ on Up’ blog, believes it is time to stop going on about Kerslake and the council’s commissioners for schools and children’s social care, Sir Mike Tomlinson and Lord Warner.

This is all part of making sure Birmingham, the council, stakeholders, communities and any relevant organisations you can think of have ownership of “our city plan”, and the starting point it seems is to perform a Trotsky-like airbrushing of Sir Bob from the history books.

Mr Rogers also takes the opportunity of wishing Sir Bob all the best in retirement, strangely signing off his blog with a link to the funereal chords of ‘Song for Bob’ from the 2007 film The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford’. What can he mean?

As far as mention of K******e is concerned, Mr Rogers puts it like this:

Now that we are on the cusp of tipping from action planning into full implementation mode, I think it appropriate to start talking in a different language. I am as guilty as anyone of going on about ‘Kerslake this’, ‘Tomlinson that’ and ‘Warner the other’, but hereon in we should be speaking of our plan.

Only we – the elected members and officers of the city council, along with our partners and the citizens of the city – can lead the improvements that our several and serial reviewers and inspectors have unequivocally stated we need to make. So, no more talk of ‘The Kerskale Plan’, ‘The Tomlinson Plan’ or the ‘Warner Plan’.

Today, and henceforth, let us speak only of the ‘Future Council’ plan. Our plan for self-directed improvement.”

In his blog Mr Rogers rather sketches around how the improvement plan came to be drawn up and, understandably for a chief executive, does not address criticism from backbench councillors that they had no involvement in compiling the document. He says:

There have been a small number of ‘set piece’ discussions to inform the formulation of the plan, involving the council’s political leadership, opposition group leaders, a selection of stakeholders, staff and a number of others.

Yes, well, up to a point Lord Copper. The fact is that most elected members feel they were not involved and a draft version of the plan went to the Labour group only two days before being approved by the cabinet. This appears to contradict Kerslake’s (sorry, the K-word again) firm view that the whole council must own the plan.

As Chamberlain Files editor Kevin Johnson pointed out, this was an odd approach guaranteed to raise claims that a council so often accused of arrogance and of failing to form partnerships was behaving, well, rather arrogantly.

Mr Rogers gets around this by invoking the time constraints placed on the council by the Government and Kerslake and the need to rapidly come forward with an improvement plan. He hints at changing or adding to the draft plan over the next few weeks because there will be time to consult more widely before the improvement board signs off the document on March 18.

In another sign that the language surrounding the Kerslake Review continues to concern the council, Mr Rogers wonders whether Sir Bob’s recommendation about setting up an independent Birmingham leadership group is wise. He asks his blog readers:

One of the questions you may well want to consider is whether or not the language of a ‘leadership group’ is helpful. What we are seeking, it seems to me, is to arrive at a shared ambition/vision for the city, some common priorities, and the collective improvement of some key outcomes that matter most to local people.

It is not necessarily axiomatic that a leadership group is the best construct to fulfil such a purpose – assuming we agree that that is what we’re aiming for in the first place!

That doesn’t sound like overwhelming backing for a leadership group, although Mr Rogers does hedge his bets by stating that the council is “acutely aware of the criticisms levelled at it by some in the city with regard to our historic approach to partnerships” and remains “determined to make sure that we come at this in the right way and create something that is of value to our partners, our citizens and ourselves”.

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