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Rogers on Kerslake: ‘This is no box-ticking exercise. Real change required’.

Rogers on Kerslake: ‘This is no box-ticking exercise. Real change required’.

🕔27.Jan 2015

Birmingham city council must show convincingly that it is delivering “dial turning changes” in performance as demanded by the Kerslake Review and there can be no let-up in the pace of reform, the local authority’s chief executive Mark Rogers has stated.

In a blunt message to staff on his blog Mr Rogers spoke of the scale of culture change required and underlined the tight deadline the council is working to, adding: “We have to demonstrate convincingly that we are shaping up by the end of the calendar year.”

He warned the council’s reaction to Kerslake must not be a “box ticking exercise”. Real change in the way the authority works was required.

His words reflect a subtle change of emphasis since Sir Bob’s Kerslake’s highly critical account of Birmingham’s under-performance over many years was published. After an initial period of shock, which in a few instances appeared to verge on denial, senior officers and politicians appear to have grasped the scale of the change agenda being imposed upon them.

The appointment of Sarah Homer as Director of Service Delivery with a remit to deliver change across the organisation shows a determination to strengthen the council’s corporate centre.

She will lead the Future Council Programme which covers the redesign of support services, development of a workforce strategy particularly addressing the challenges around the recruitment and retention of children’s social workers, and developing a new model for city devolution.

Ms Homer also assumes operational leadership of the council’s HR department and is responsible for overseeing procurement and commissioning, ICT strategy, policy, performance, communications and PR.

An independent improvement panel, recommended by Kerslake, has been appointed to oversee delivery of the Future Council Programme.

It is chaired by John Crabtree, a former senior partner of Birmingham law firm Wragge and current chair of Birmingham Hippodrome. Other members include Frances Done, former managing director for local government at the Audit Commission, Keith Wakefield, Leader of Leeds City Council, and Steve Robinson, chief executive of Cheshire West and Chester Council.

In his message to staff Mr Rogers sets out plans to consult widely about the council’s future direction and move to establish a City Leadership Group, another of the Kerslake recommendations:

We will be broadening and deepening the dialogue with internal and external stakeholders. There will be an event with partner organisations at which those attending will look, in particular, at how they can help in setting out the way forwards in establishing a City Leadership Group and agreeing a vision for our city. Other sessions are in train to engage group leaders, scrutiny chairs, MPs, officers and others.

I need to make it clear that the preparation and publication of our initial plan signals just the start of an ongoing and sustained engagement process. I will, with the support of members and officers, lead a new inclusive and more outward-looking approach to engaging with staff and partners as we formulate, deliver, review and reformulate the plan over the coming months.

Mr Rogers said he believed the Kerslake Review presented a set of challenges to the council which could be summed up as “be modern, be transparent and be brave”.

He continued:

With an action plan deadline from Sir Bob of the end of February, we need to respond positively, imaginatively and quickly and, with this in mind, production has commenced. It will need to be signed off by both the incoming Independent improvement panel and by our own cabinet – the latter will consider the action plan formally on February 16.

Lest there be any doubt, we are not simply writing a set of actions to tick the box for central government – or, for that matter, ourselves.  We are committed to addressing the important issues raised and, as the senior responsible officer for the plan, I have, therefore, spent quite some time already drawing on a range of advice both from within and outside the council, reflecting on how best to prioritise, phase and implement our improvement work.

What we have to do is too serious for a knee jerk reaction – although we do have to move fast, but with speed, not haste.

We know things have to change and we must now sign up fully to that process in order to become the universally effective and credible council we want to be in the future.

I am fully committed to making that happen and I take very seriously my responsibility for delivery.  But I also know that trying to do everything at once is unlikely to deliver step change sufficiently; nor will rushing our fences embed the improvements we attempt because we will lack focus and capacity and stretch ourselves and our partners too thinly. Therefore, we need to balance the need to move quickly with the need to get it right.

What it is most important to do, and do quickly, is set out what we are trying to achieve through this plan and to communicate a clear direction and set of milestones so that we, our partners and, crucially, our residents understand the journey ahead.

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