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‘We’re improving but council culture change not beyond point of no return’, warns Rogers

‘We’re improving but council culture change not beyond point of no return’, warns Rogers

🕔16.Jun 2015

The culture change necessary to make Birmingham city council an inclusive and outward looking body able to work well with partners has not yet been implemented “beyond the point of no return”, chief executive Mark Rogers has admitted.

Mr Rogers accepted that one of the main issues raised at last week’s first public meeting of the independent improvement panel overseeing the Kerslake reforms was whether the council and its leadership “really gets that we need to be different and better”.

He said it was not surprising that it was taking time to turn the council around and pointed out that the Kerslake Review was published just six months ago and an improvement plan was approved only three months ago.

His comments were made after panel members made it clear they were concerned about the slow rate of progress in delivering some of Kerslake’s recommendations, in particular delay in establishing an independent city leadership group to monitor and approve an action plan.

Panel vice-chair Frances Done told council leader Sir Albert Bore that many people in Birmingham felt he did not understand the scale and pace of change required.

Writing in his blog Mr Rogers insisted the council had moved on from 2014 when much officer time had to be spent “fire-fighting” and an “inspiring and inspired” change team had been created since then.

But he could not “incontrovertibly” prove” that a promising start might not be reversed.

The council had opened up discussions with partners about “how we need to change our approach to working with others and seek their advice in reshaping the organisation” and with sustained effort a progressive future could be delivered.

But Mr Rogers warned against complacency:

Of course challenges remain. Not least the obvious one – that culture takes time to change and, as has been said to me more than once and by different people, Birmingham city council has an in-built tendency to act like plastic. You can bend it into a new shape, but it will – if we’re not careful – return to its original form.

Well, no one can afford for that to happen this time. And I don’t think we can yet assure the Panel that we have evolved the culture sufficiently for it to have yet passed the point of no return. This is hardly surprising as it’s only six months since our governance report was published and three months since the action plan was agreed.

He urged the council to develop a “sense of positive dissatisfaction”. Mr Rogers said:

Dissatisfaction that we have ended up needing intervention on three fronts in the first place. Dissatisfaction that it’s understandably taking longer than we would want to deliver the improvements. Dissatisfaction that our circumstances make it easy for some to take pot shots at us. Dissatisfaction that the new culture has yet to take root everywhere.

Addressing staff directly, Mr Rogers continued:

I am relying on you all to marshall a collective frustration and ensure, at all times, that it generates a positive energy that drives our hunger for success.

Let me remind me and you why I sought to come to Birmingham in the first place. I wanted to work with the elected members, colleagues, partners and our communities to ensure we turned around the quality and reputation of children’s services, designed a council fit for the future that could still secure great outcomes for our citizens with far fewer resources, and secured the city’s and the city region’s position as the future economic powerhouse of the UK.

These goals remain entirely relevant 15 months later – although I’ve had to add tackling poor governance in a small number of schools and reforming corporate governance to my list. So, more than ever, we all need to be certain that, in our own way, we are making a positive difference every day to people’s lives.

That way lies success – for our citizens, first and foremost, but also for ourselves, our city council, our city and our city region.

His comments about the importance of pushing through culture change and moving away from a “we know best” attitude follow comments from the council’s two opposition party leaders who made it clear they still feel left out of the decision making process.

Robert Alden, the Conservative leader, told the improvement panel that while there had been some “meaningful meetings” with Mr Rogers and Sir Albert, there was still a culture of “coming along and informing you of what is happening” rather than encouraging any debate.

There was still no cross-party involvement in the executive management team, a body comprising senior officers and councillors, Cllr Alden pointed out.

Paul Tilsley, the Liberal Democrat group leader, said he didn’t think there had been “a great deal of change in culture” and hit out at “adversarial politics and intemperate language” at council meetings.

The improvement panel’s mid-year report to Local Government Secretary Greg Clark will be published next month.

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