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Kerslake Review: chance to produce ‘coherent and positive plan for Birmingham’ – Tory leader

Kerslake Review: chance to produce ‘coherent and positive plan for Birmingham’ – Tory leader

🕔11.Dec 2014

Robert Alden, leader of Birmingham city council’s opposition Conservative group, gives his perspective on the Kerslake Review.

Many of the criticisms levied at Birmingham city council are not new. It is therefore sad to see much of the feedback so far from the ruling administration has revolved around the difficulties the report presents and alleged political bias.

This report should now be viewed as an opportunity to remodel the council and go forward with a coherent and positive plan for Birmingham in the future. Going forward as the recommendations become attached to delivery plans, a conversation remains to be had around the detail of some of what is laid out in the report.

The aftershocks from this independent report will be felt for years to come – most notably in the political aspects. With Birmingham set to move to all-out council elections from 2017, the public will always have the chance to remove from office the ruling administrations and the council will no longer have an excuse to kick difficult choices into the political long grass.

This change is to be welcomed. However, the detail around ward boundary arrangements and the number of councillors will remain the centre of much discussion. In reality if people feel that they do not have enough contact with their elected councillors and/or the caseload of councillors is too high, then the removal of some councillors and the creation of larger wards (in terms of population per councillor) will not help resolve that.

I suspect that when it all comes out in the wash it is highly unlikely that single member wards will be created within a wholly urban area.

Much of the criticism in the report is focused around the failures of recent constitutional restructures, whether it be highlighting of the damage done by removing cabinet members for HR and housing or the reality that devolution has been so weakened that it is no longer fit for purpose.

The recommendation to revisit and clarify the roles and responsibilities on the council echo the concerns raised previously by Conservative group and by the independent remuneration panel. Indeed the majority of people are likely to welcome this, except perhaps Sir Albert Bore, who continues to argue that no one but him understands it and we are all in the wrong.

Looking at the recommendations around working together for the production of a Combined Authority including at least Solihull but preferably also the rest of the Birmingham & Solihull LEP is to be welcomed.

The recommendation that the authority should operate on a one-member-one-vote basis forces Birmingham’s hand in a way that was always likely to need to happen and so should speed up negotiations with neighbours and remove some of the worries that the city council may look to dominate any combined authority.

Indeed much of what is said around the subject echoes the very points we made at the last full council meeting. Moving forward there has to be absolute clarity not only between the role of the Leader and all other council roles, but also between officers and the political structures. It must once again become true that the cabinet decides policy and the officers implement it, not the other way round.

Remaining recommendations covering the need to upskill the city workforce are clear for the world to see. This is not a new problem but it remains a fundamental one. For the best part of 30 years we have been allowing people to leave school without the skills needed to secure long term employment.

This has created whole areas of the city where people are unable to get a viable career. This needs drastic work and fundamental overhauling. If we can’t get this right then we will simply keep repeating the problems of the past.

A quote from the Kerslake Review: “They (the Council) want to do partnership but only on their own terms” – will be a sentiment that too many people from outside and within the council recognise, all the way from the leader down. If any of what is recommended to the city in this report is to happen, this attitude has to change.

To conclude, there is much for Birmingham city council to get its teeth into in this report, if we treat it as we should and rise to the challenge we can come out as a city finally with a world class vision and giving our residents world class prospects in life.

However, if we succumb to doom and gloom and seek through accusations of political intentions and generally try to claim we already do this, but the report just missed it, then we will be here again in ten years time covering the same ground having wasted another decade.

Robert Alden is a councillor for the Erdington Ward and leader of the Conservative Group on Birmingham City Council/

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