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‘We’ll be very humble in future’, council promises in Kerslake action plan

‘We’ll be very humble in future’, council promises in Kerslake action plan

🕔16.Feb 2015

The political and officer leaders of Birmingham council are promising to cast aside past arrogance and behave in a “magnanimous and humble” way driven only by what is best for the city, reports Paul Dale.

Often slammed for being patronising and controlling, the council says it will change the habits of a lifetime by “getting out of the way” and creating the conditions for others to progress ideas that benefit Birmingham.

The Uriah Heep-like humility pledge is contained in a 20-page formal response to the Kerslake Review which heavily criticised the council for a lack of leadership and having no positive vision for the future.

A draft action plan is likely to be approved next month by the independent improvement panel set up to oversee the council following publication of Kerslake’s recommendations.

Council leader Sir Albert Bore has been criticised for drawing up the response jointly with chief executive Mark Rogers. Members of the controlling Labour group only received a draft copy on February 13th, three days before the document was to receive cabinet approval, and played no part in the plan’s compilation.

Under a ‘vision section’ the plan says the council must be fully supportive of developments that benefit the city “even if we are not involved or leading”.

It continues:

We create the conditions for others to progress ideas and developments that benefit our communities and the city. We play our part – and sometimes that means getting out of the way of others.

Our partners and communities see us as approachable and easy to engage with. Our concept of partnership goes beyond the traditional concept of public sector agencies and we engage with anyone for the benefit of the city.

Councillors and officers must develop a closer relationship with communities where they will be seen as partnership makers and facilitators.

In a section on leadership and strategy, new emphasis is placed on cross-party dialogue when faced with difficult decisions and the council is urged to “feel comfortable having difficult conversations”.

There’s also a call to accept “positive failure”, trying things out and learning from experimentation.

The plan describes the Kerslake Review as “not an easy read” but says the findings are an objective analysis of the council’s performance.

The document confirms the end of the HR and Employment Committee which was heavily criticised by Kerslake for failing in its primary duty to manage a huge reduction in the council workforce. Scrapping the committee will be a blow for chairman Cllr Mohammed Afzal, a key ally of Sir Albert.

Four aims are set out:

  • Clear values, purpose and vision for the future council, along with its future operating model.
  • A medium term outcomes-driven council and financial plan to take us to 2020/21.
  • Strategic alignment of outcomes, resources, policy-making, service delivery, governance and roles and responsibilities.
  • Sufficient senior leadership capacity to transform the organisation and deliver sustainable change.

The action plan continues:

Kerslake recognises that the changes required of the council will take some years to implement and take effect. This is not a quick fix plan. We know that attempting to deliver fully against every recommendation in year one would create a programme that lacks priorities and focus, challenges capacity, and overwhelms the organisation with change activity. We would not, therefore, achieve the step change that we need.

One of the most urgent areas we need to address in 2015 is our financial planning; not only taking a longer term view but also ensuring we have a fully integrated council, service and financial plan for the organisation.

Our priority in year 1 is to develop the first iteration of a five-year plan. Critical to this will be agreeing a draft outline vision and operating principles for the council that provides a clear framework for guiding the development of service and budget options.

We will have to review, refine and iterate this as we progress but this is an essential shift we need to make quickly. We know the current council model is not financially sustainable and we expect that managing demand will be a critical part of our five year plan.

This plan marks is a key turning point for the council and our city. We have an opportunity to draw a line under the past, focus on the future, and take forward a programme of significant change that will deliver real and positive change for our council, our partners and all those who work and live in our city.

The Labour cabinet approved the draft action plan today. Sir Albert succeeded in changing the wording of a recommendation making it clear that implementation of the plan would be carried out “in consultation” with the Tory and Lib Dem group leaders, rather than “in agreement with”.

The change was criticised by Tory leader Robert Alden who predicted the Government would send in commissioners to run Birmingham “if we don’t make this work”.

Cllr Alden said an important principle of the action plan was acceptance that “the best ideas” for Birmingham would not always come from the council leadership and that other bodies and organisations could be involved in running the city.

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