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Review should be catalyst for Council to make significant and drastic changes – Lunar Chair

Review should be catalyst for Council to make significant and drastic changes – Lunar Chair

🕔09.Dec 2014

In the first of a series of guest posts on the Kerslake Review, Waheed Saleem concurs with a number of the report’s findings but suggests the cuts being faced by the Council should have been further acknowledged and that the independent improvement panel should be made up of leaders from the private, public and civic sectors in the City – and not outsiders. 

The Kerslake Review was published today and has set out ‘warts and all’ the significant challenges facing the City Council and the City as a whole. In my experience of working in Birmingham over many years, numerous people have on many occasions criticised and talked about the challenges of working with and in the City Council. The Kerslake Review has brought all these issues and criticism in one document, making it a powerful statement on the leadership and culture of the City Council. However, is this criticism fair and reflective and can an external panel really provide an analysis of the City Council from a three month review, even headed by such an influential and well respected leader such as Sir Bob?

It is interesting to note that the Review failed to mention the impact of the significant cuts in public expenditure and in particular the devastating cuts the City Council is forced to make. I believe the report should have acknowledged the impact of these cuts as the significant challenge to the City Council and its citizens. However, the need for effective financial and performance management is a fundamental given in any organisation or business of this size. Therefore, the Council will be required to step up to this, as it is unlikely that the financial situation of local authorities will change in the next 5-10 years.

I have read the report in detail and can resonate with some of the conclusions in the report; the culture of the Council requires fundamental change, both in terms of its ability to deliver services, and its approach to partnership working. The Council should have a clear strategic vision for the City as a whole, which is developed and implemented by the whole City, with the Council acting as the enabler; leading, supporting, catalysing, commissioning and in some cases funding the implementation of the vision. The Council lacks the political will and leadership from elected members, which is in essence the fault of the system not necessarily the elected members, therefore a clear role profile, training and officer support is required for elected members to enable them to do their job. The culture of the Council needs fundamental change as silo working still occurs below the corporate level, with officers protecting their territory.

The size of the Council has been a constant discussion point throughout this review process, although the Review did not recommend a structure change of the Council, it did conclude the report with a clear warning, improve or the Government will break up the Council. In my opinion this is not helpful: the Council and its citizens should decide through an on going dialogue the best structural fit for the Council, based on the clear need to deliver outcomes for the citizens. The Governance Review process started for Sutton Coldfield should also extend across to other areas of the City.

The significant deprivation levels in the City is a’ blot’ on the City’s character; I am glad the Review has highlighted this in stark terms. You cannot regenerate the City core and forget about the neighbourhoods that surround it, hoping for the trickle down approach to economic development. The City should be judged on its ability to tackle the poverty and deprivation levels in the City, which in essence requires a fundamental shift of thinking and radical solutions to tackle this ‘blight’ on the City. The Council should make this its mission and top priority.

The Review did highlight the many positive aspects of the City Council, including the inspirational Chief Executive. That inspiration needs to be embedded across the Council; the renewed positive attitude to the creation of the Combined Authority; the pride, passion and enthusiasm felt by the people of the City, its greatest asset that should be harnessed, with renewed vigour and leadership, to make the City the ‘Premier City of the World’.

The need to establish the City Leaders Group is an acknowledgement of the need to bring together the key partners to drive through the City Vision, but the Report should also have recommended that the independent improvement panel be made up of leaders from the private, public and civic sectors in the City, instead of outsiders, appointed by the Secretary of State. Now, that would be radical step!

The Review can be seen as the catalyst for the City Council to make significant and drastic changes to enable the Council to become an exemplar local authority, to become the ‘by word’ for local government and to tackle the ingrained challenges of deprivation and poverty. I hope the Council uses the report in this way and it does not become another report for the ‘dusty shelf’.

Waheed Saleem is Chairman of the Lunar Society

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