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Progress report on Kerslake reforms shows some progress, but red warning lines too

Progress report on Kerslake reforms shows some progress, but red warning lines too

🕔20.May 2015

Birmingham city council says it is delivering recommendations from the Kerslake Review, but red lines on an improvement action plan show that some key challenges are yet to be addressed, writes Paul Dale.

Council leader Sir Albert Bore and chief executive Mark Rogers have published a report detailing progress on delivering the Future Council Programme – a specific plan to correct the numerous governance failings identified by Kerslake.

A post-Kerslake improvement panel under the chairmanship of former Wragge partner John Crabtree will question Sir Albert and Mr Rogers in public next month about the progress the council has made.

Issues attracting a red warning indicating slow progress include the formulation of a long term planning and budget process. The report says a “positive event” was held with key partners on planning assumptions which “identified opportunities for joint planning and delivery and agreement to continue the dialogue”.

The report adds that forming a strategic framework, vision and design principles is “taking longer than expected to develop and agree”. It is hoped that the issue can be signed off by end May.

Governance is still being developed for the Future Council Programme “with detailed action and resource planning”.

Another stumbling block appears to be Kerslake’s recommendation that the council should set up an independent leadership group to advise and approve the improvement plan. The group, now renamed the City Partnership Group, is yet to be formed.

Kerslake found the council’s failure to form effective partnerships had created significant problems for Birmingham and the wider area. There was an attitude of “if it’s worth doing, the council should be doing it”. He also accused the council of poor leadership over many years and failing to set out a positive vision for Birmingham.

The action plan report notes: “Until this sub-programme is adequately resourced, progress on a wider partnership approach will be limited. In the meantime we will continue to capitalise on proven existing strong partnership links and connections.”

On the plus side, the report indicates rapid progress in delivering better training for councillors and an improved appraisal scheme for staff. Reforms to the HR department, found by Kerslake to be failing, have been carried out and the council has increased senior management capacity.

Changes to the number of scrutiny committees, down from nine to five, have been implemented and the role of district committees has been changed from delivery of services to a wide-ranging scrutiny role.

In an introduction to the progress report, the council says the action plan and Future Council Programme “is the means by which we will deliver a changed council role and relationship with the city, our citizens and our partners, and redefine how we deliver services to best meet the needs of our communities in line with our medium term financial strategy”.

The report continues: “The action plan set out our vision for the way that the council would operate in the future through implementing these changes. We are developing measures to assess the impact, but much of the evidence will be qualitative and based on feedback from our citizens, partners, members and staff.”

The action plan was signed off by the improvement panel at the end of March.

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