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Management shake-up planned as Birmingham council is probed about slow pace of Kerslake reforms

Management shake-up planned as Birmingham council is probed about slow pace of Kerslake reforms

🕔11.Jun 2015

A major shake-up of senior management is underway at Birmingham city council following the highly critical Kerslake Review into the authority’s below-par governance capabilities, Chamberlain Files can reveal.

The scale of what is planned was hinted at by council leader Sir Albert Bore when he was quizzed at the first public meeting of the independent improvement panel set up to oversee implementation of the Kerslake recommendations for reform.

It was confirmed that the job of interim director of service delivery, filled since January by Sarah Homer, will become a permanent position, taking the council from three to four strategic directors.

It is unlikely that Ms Homer, a freelance employed by a London recruitment agency, will fill the permanent role. The new position is expected to be filled by the end of the year.

Sir Albert conceded that some of the current senior officer corps may be without a job before long.

He told the panel he could not discuss details of the restructuring in public because “individuals within the organisation who will move in terms of their roles and responsibilities” were involved. He added:

Some may cease to have a role and responsibility within the organisation and I can’t put that into the public domain here this afternoon.

There will be financial implications to the changes in management and talks are ongoing between Sir Albert and chief executive Mark Rogers about additional employment costs.

One of Kerslake’s key findings concerned the lack of strategic management capacity, leaving Mr Rogers without the expert help he needs to deliver reform and a strategic plan fit for purpose.

Kerslake noted that the corporate leadership team lacked “the support and capacity that is needed to work together as a team and undertake their role effectively”. The report stated:

We are not confident that BCC has the capability or the capacity it needs to improve. BCC need to ensure that their senior leadership team is structured in such a way as to bring strategic leadership with the focus, capacity and energy to drive the improvement of service delivery, especially in schools and children’s social care.

Mr Rogers told the panel:

I have an agreement with the leader and the deputy leader about gaps in strategic capacity and how they could be filled. I am on the cusp of detailed roles and funding requirements and how to fill the gaps.

The initial assessment was really clear. What we lacked in terms of strategic capacity was someone who could lead the thinking, planning and implementation of the change programme. We took on an interim director of service delivery sitting around my top table.

There are some further gaps that still need to be filled. Personal support to my role and a need for greater capacity. The level of intervention we have had has consumed an amount of my time that wouldn’t otherwise have been the case.

The improvement panel was concerned about the pace of change since the Kerslake Review was published last December.

Vice-chair Frances Done reminded Sir Albert the panel had been promised in March that additional corporate support for the chief executive would be treated as a matter of urgency. “That hasn’t happened”, she added.

Business advisory and accountancy firm Deloitte have been hired to work on a five-year budget plan for the council. The firm will draw up options for dampening demand for services and propose ways in which the authority can survive with radically constrained budgets.

Deputy council leader Ian Ward explained:

We have started work to look at mapping out the city council’s budget and where it is going over the next five years. A complete picture about where the end game is going and we have engaged Deloitte’s to help us with this work.

It is focusing on how we can reduce demand in the future for services and understanding where the level of demand is and where we might be able to take out services where they can be delivered in a different way. We will be looking to reshape services in 2016-17.

Sir Albert insisted he and the cabinet were getting to grips with the budgetary problems.

There will be no further salami slicing of services. Unless the Chancellor changes the Government’s relationship with local government a further £250 million will be taken out of this council’s budget over the next two years. That means salami slicing is not the order of the day.

What we have to do is take out services. That’s why in the Future Council Programme one of the ways of doing this is to help us reduce demand for service.

He responded to another Kerslake criticism, the lack of cross-party involvement at the council and poor partnership working. The opposition Conservative and Liberal Democrat councillors were fully engaged with discussions about the Future Council Programme, setting out a vision for service delivery encompassing the Kerslake recommendations.

Sir Albert said:

There is an issue of vision and values for this council that is at the heart of the Future Council Programme. We are going to consult with partner organisations.

The formation of an independent city leadership group to approve and monitor the Future Council Programme, as demanded by Kerslake, has not moved beyond the discussion stage. Cllr Ward blamed the General Election which he said had taken up councillors’ time.

He added:

There have been a series of informal meetings to map out how a city partnership group is going to work and this is one of the aims that is behind pace, but the election has had an impact on that.

One of the things that need to be mapped out is how the leadership group is going to have engagement with diverse communities. It can’t be the usual suspects coming up with the usual things. It needs to be wider than that.

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