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Sound of silence echoes through Council House as improvement panel fails to approve action plan

Sound of silence echoes through Council House as improvement panel fails to approve action plan

🕔19.Mar 2015

Birmingham council leaders’ hopes that an improvement panel would sign off an action plan setting out how the authority intends to address criticism of its performance raised in the Kerslake Review have been frustrated.

The panel held its first formal meeting yesterday but failed to approve the 20-page plan.

Council chief executive Mark Rogers said the panel wanted to “reflect and feedback to us” and he did not anticipate any further developments until next week.

Mr Rogers used Twitter to break a day of silence that saw the council press office refusing to make any comment on the discussions about the action plan, now known as the Future Council Plan.

Although the date of the panel meeting had been public knowledge for several weeks, it quickly emerged the council had not made arrangements to publicise the body’s deliberations.

The panel’s reluctance to back the plan in its current form may not have come as a complete surprise to council leader Sir Albert Bore. Earlier this month he told Chamberlain Files he could not be certain that the body would sign off the document and admitted he had met the panel chair and vice-chair only once in six weeks.

A lack of openness is a key theme running through the Kerlsake report, but almost two months after the improvement panel was appointed the body is yet to make any public comment about its deliberations. It has, though, had several weeks to study the plan, quiz officials and request changes.

The council press office later issued the following statement:

The independent improvement panel met with Sir Albert Bore, deputy leader, Ian Ward, and chief executive, Mark Rogers, yesterday in the first of a series of monthly meetings, scheduled for 20 May 2015, 11 June 2015 and 10 July 2015.

Public updates are expected shortly after each meeting and briefings around those meetings are being planned for wider groups of councillors. The improvement panel is also considering some wider public engagement but those plans are yet to be finalised.

The statement made no mention of the panel’s failure to sign off the action plan.

It’s understood that the panel members – chair John Crabtree, vice-chair Frances Done, Keith Wakefield and Steve Robinson – have been critical of parts of the action plan in discussions with senior Birmingham council officers. In particular, there is concern about the lack of elected councillor involvement in putting together the plan.

In his Twitter comments Mr Rogers said there would be “no feedback until we get feedback”, urged patience and added: “It’s that simple and straight-forward.”

Pressed for more information about the panel discussions, Mr Rogers said:

I didn’t realise reflectiveness was so out of favour. So, the people will have to wait a little longer for some properly considered thoughts. Radical or what?

It’s pointless being open when we don’t have the feedback. So, patience.

Establishing an independent improvement panel to provide the “robust challenge and support the council requires” was the first of Kerslake’s 11 recommendations. The council must show substantial progress in delivering the plan by the end of the year.

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