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Special Feature: Implementing Kerslake, part III

Special Feature: Implementing Kerslake, part III

🕔19.Aug 2015

In the third and final part of our Kerslake special, chief blogger Paul Dale looks at the final four recommendations – leadership, partnership and a combined authority.

Recommendation 8

The council should facilitate the creation of a new independent Birmingham leadership group. The group should approve the new long-term City Plan and be used to hold all involved in delivery of the plan to account.

This appears to be one of the most troublesome recommendations of all.

Nine months after publication of the Kerslake Review there is no real sign of a leadership group, or partnership group as it has been restyled, getting underway, although negotiations are continuing between the council and various bodies including the city’s universities.

The biggest challenge is to produce a high-level body that does not consist of the “usual suspects” and is not simply a rehash of the former Birmingham Strategic Partnership.

Recommendation 9

Birmingham City Council should redefine their partnership approach. They should do this by:

 Producing with their partners a clear statement of their partnership values such as openness, transparency, learning, collaborating, safe and constructive challenge. These should be communicated and applied across the organisation and externally.

Having a shared clarity about the mission, objectives and purpose of individual partnerships and how they will judge their performance.

Monitoring, measuring and learning by seeking and acting on feedback on their performance from their partners and being transparent about the results.

As with the city leadership group, progress on improving the council’s relationship with partners has been limited.

Mr Crabtree made his feelings clear to Greg Clark: “A key element of Lord Kerslake’s recommendations was that the council needed to engage widely with partners to develop and agree a clear vision and objectives for the City.

“The concern we expressed in March about this key development was that progress was limited. Very recently there have been more encouraging signs of progress and we hope that the successful partner event held in early July will herald the start of a new and transformed relationship between the council and its partners across the city.

“Political leadership for this work needs to be active and consistent if the willingness of partner organisations to work effectively with the Council is to be maintained over the long term.

Recommendation 10

A combined authority governance review based on an authority formed of at least in the initial stage the core functional economic area of Birmingham, Dudley, Sandwell, Walsall, Wolverhampton and Solihull should be completed by July 2015. Once this has happened the Government should begin to engage in a dialogue about further devolution. Based on the experience of other combined authorities we recommend that the following proposals should be adopted:

Wherever possible decisions should be reached by consensus, if a vote is required each member should appoint a single representative and decisions should be taken on the basis of one member one vote.

The secretariat should be based outside of Birmingham city council.

The Government wants to see seamless working between Local Enterprise Partnerships and combined authorities. To ensure enterprise retains a strong voice in economic strategy, the chairs of both the Black Country and Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnerships should be invited to join the board of the new combined authority.

The prescriptive nature of this recommendation took everyone by surprise. Kerslake’s enthusiasm for a combined authority was predictable, but the very clear and detailed recommendations about how the new body should go about its business were not expected.

The recommendation is on course to be delivered in full. The seven West Midlands metropolitan councils and the LEPs have published a combined authority prospectus and hope the venture will get Government approval by the end of the year.

Initial suggestions that the council leaders should share chairmanship of the combined authority attracted a certain amount of ridicule. It seems highly likely that the councils will agree to have a West Midlands metro mayor in return for maximum devolution.

Recommendation 11

The Government should support the creation of a new locally-led high powered partnership vehicle focussed on increasing employment and improving skills, starting in the most deprived parts of Birmingham. With an independent chair and involving the Cities and Local Growth Unit, the Department for Work and Pensions with Job Centre Plus, the Skills Funding Agency, Local Enterprise Partnership and Birmingham City Council and other partners, the first step should be to develop an agreed plan including proposals for Government by April 2015, looking at best practice and maximising resources already committed to Birmingham.

Little progress as yet. This may be a task for the new combined authority and the LEPs.

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