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That was the week that was

That was the week that was

🕔27.Feb 2017

Well, what a week. They say a week is a long time in politics. It’s now been confirmed Harold Wilson’s adage applies equally to the municipal variety. Kevin Johnson reflects on aspects of the last seven days in the first of a two-part feature on events at Birmingham city council. 

There’s some talk Tuesday’s full council agenda, which is centred on the rather important business of the “Council Financial Plan 2017+” (the budget to you and me) will have an item added on the events of the last few days – including the subject of leaks.

Just to help councillors wishing to focus on how Chamberlain Files put together it’s story revealing Mark Rogers would be leaving the council, they may find our story behind the story post helpful.

Sorry the disappoint, but the leak was not a leak in a way that might be imagined. Our original story did not come from the leader’s office.

It came from old fashioned methods – having many conversations over many weeks with well placed people, reading publicly available information and, oh, picking up bits of conversations that really shouldn’t have happened in public. We pieced it together in a rather boring way and went through well practised story checking procedures.

What purpose would a ‘managed’ leak have served, given details of Mr Rogers’ early retirement were not concluded at that time and all councillors and staff had not been informed?

READ: Rogers retires early.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the last week has been the use – perhaps that should be misuse – of social media. Many a word has been published – for that is what we do when spilling thoughts onto Twitter and Facebook – rather too hastily.

READ: After Rogers – social outbursts, but is there a plan?

It never ceases to surprise us that apparently intelligent people trust the direct messaging function on Twitter for conveying information and private thoughts. A new chief executive will surely want to review council guidelines covering social media and, at the very least, ensure they are enforced as they stand. Those at the top of the organisation will want to lead by example, we are sure.

A number of people have wondered on social media whether they should look at Chamberlain Files before checking the official news pages of the council website or their internal emails.

For those who have commented in a complimentary way, our thanks. For others, we’ll simply point out the vast majority of the information we publish is publicly available – we just try to write it up with a degree of insight and analysis and share it with our audience reasonably quickly. It really isn’t magic – or anything to be suspicious about.

Meanwhile, for all the talk of interference from Government and/or the Improvement Panel, we suggest a re-read of the Kerslake Report and subsequent letters from BIIP.

Chamberlain Files is pretty certain Mr Crabtree – and his rather well qualified fellow panel members – have no interest in Cllr Clancy’s role, or the vacant CEO position for that matter. In fact, we might go as far as to surmise they wish they could draw a line under the whole business and move on with their lives.

Their function is clearly laid out – to provide “robust challenge and support” to the council on the implementation of Lord Kerslake’s recommendations, reporting to the Communities Secretary. Does anyone seriously believe, even with or without reading the latest letter, that all recommendations have been implemented in full?

When the history is written of Kerslake, long after the Panel pack up their bags, it is quite possible it will be concluded they should have interjected more forcefully earlier, long before Sir Albert was made to step down; that it should not have stepped back last Spring and that it should have been even stronger in its last letter of 2016.

But for all the talk of senior management, the improvement panel, supposed leaks and difficult budgets one subject continues to dominate the Council House. The 2018 all out election.

Just as with even the most committed politicians anywhere, thoughts of boundary changes and electoral prospects (with 19 fewer seats, re-drawn wards and a political environment in flux) will be inescapable.

Tonight’s Labour group meeting will provide Cllr Clancy with a decent temperature test among his comrades. Just what impact will the last seven days have had on the strength of his leadership? What appetite will there be for a leadership challenge in May, such as from Cllr Tahir Ali?

It is the likely state of the council in 2018 – and the degree of political stability – that will be as much a factor for potential chief executives looking at the newly vacant role as much as the financial situation and improvement progress.

In part 2 of this feature, we look ahead to Tuesday’s full council meeting. 

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