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Council: Panel stands down, but recommends another one pop up

Council: Panel stands down, but recommends another one pop up

🕔02.Apr 2019

The Panel set up to oversee improvements to Birmingham city council has disbanded itself and published its final report to Government, but has effectively recommended another body takes its place, writes Kevin Johnson

In its report to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, the Panel acknowledges that the Council is intending to maintain “constructive and critical challenge” through internal scrutiny and sector-led arrangements.

But, it says, in the light of the exceptional risks that the Council is facing and particularly its industrial relations context, the Panel considers that this type of challenge will be insufficient. The Panel has recommended that the Secretary of State should put in place external independent challenge and support, additional to that proposed by the Council, to replace the Panel, now that the Panel has stood down.

The Panel stood itself down at the end of March. It has been four years since it was established, following the withering report by Lord Kerslake into the governance and financial capability of Birmingham City Council.

The Panel’s report is published alongside the City Council’s own Stocktake Report which provides a self-assessment of the Council’s improvement progress since June 2018.

In his letter to James Brokenshire, the Panel chairs says:

But there are some matters on which the Panel does not entirely concur with the Council’s assessment. 

The most important of these are set out in our report, along with other important information that we wish to highlight. 

We continue to advise the Council to stay true to its commitments to be fully transparent and open. We continue to advise the Council to avoid overstating its progress or being over-optimistic about what it can achieve in the hugely challenging context it is working in. It takes time to embed genuine change. 

Commenting on the Panel’s report the Chair, John Crabtree OBE, said:

Our report to the Secretary of State outlines the Council’s progress during the last 10 months together with our overall conclusions and reflections on our four years in Birmingham.

In the report we acknowledge the meaningful progress that the Council has made since June 2018 and the huge amount of work that it is doing to get itself on the right track and tackle deeply entrenched problems. We recognise too the many significant opportunities available to the City Council, notably the Commonwealth Games 2022.

Mr Crabtree, who chairs the Organising Committee for the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games as well as serving as Lord Lieutenant for the West Midlands, continued:

But, despite creditable efforts and achievements, the Council’s financial position remains immensely serious and the risks to its financial resilience are considerable.

Crucially, the Council’s progress has been badly affected by industrial disputes and poor industrial relations. It understands that it must modernise its industrial relations if it is to make the improvements to service provision that are needed.

The Council recognises that it is in the foothills of its improvement journey. In this context, if it is to succeed, it will need to consistently demonstrate courageous and creative political leadership and muster all the capability, capacity and support that it can.

The Panel is standing down because we have done all we can within our existing terms of reference and powers to provide robust challenge, support and advice to the Council.

Chamberlain Files will have more coverage later today.

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