Latest Public Sector News

09.12.14

Birmingham Council has 12 months to ‘improve its performance’ – Pickles

Birmingham City Council has a year to “improve its performance” or face further intervention, the local government secretary, Eric Pickles, has stated. 

His comments come after the release of Sir Bob Kerslake’s independent review into the local authority, which found that Birmingham residents and businesses are not getting the best from a council that “lacks a clear vision” for the city and has failed to tackle “deep-rooted” problems such as low skills and economic growth.

The report from the DCLG’s chief civil servant states that the city risks becoming socially divided between its poor population with low skills and those able to take advantage of jobs. 

Additionally, it was reported that the council has too often looked to central government bail outs or to blame others for its problems, and that Birmingham needs to collaborate more with partner authorities and business leaders if it is to avoid falling further behind competitors. 

In order to tackle the problems, Sir Bob made several recommendations including a change in the electoral cycle to give Birmingham residents the chance to vote for the whole council every four years from 2017 – rather than the current system which splits local elections into returning a third of the authority every year. 

The review also welcomed the recent proposal to form a combined authority, but states that there is a lot of ground to make up. In his review, Sir Bob also calls for an independent improvement panel to be established to ensure the local authority delivers on the report’s recommendations. The panel would report back to the secretary of state for local government in December 2015, on Birmingham’s progress. 

Sir Bob said: “In carrying out this review, I have spoken with those who know Birmingham best and their views have formed the basis of my findings. People have said to me, Birmingham can’t carry on as it is now. 

“Things have to change and they have to change quickly. This report presents an opportunity for Birmingham to turn the dial and improve its performance but the city should be in no doubt as to the risks if it doesn’t.” 

The report, which was commissioned in July following well-documented problems in Birmingham’s schools, indicated that “above all”, the council has to change its corporate culture. “The initial response to governance problems in the city’s schools was symptomatic of a culture, under successive administrations, that has too often swept deep rooted problems under the carpet rather than addressed them,” it stated. 

In response to Sir Bob’s findings, Birmingham City Council’s leader Sir Albert Bore and the authority’s chief executive, Mark Rogers, said: “Whilst we recognise the government’s legitimate interest in helping us to secure the very best corporate governance, we are already working constructively on all the issues in this report and have serious concerns about our capacity to engage effectively with yet another set of external advisers.” 

However, they added that the council is already subject to considerable scrutiny and has two commissioners. They add that servicing a further independent improvement panel could “exacerbate this situation” by the creation of the extra work that this panel would generate. 

But Eric Pickles has thrown his full weight behind Sir Bob’s recommendations. In particular, he firmly approved of moving to a system of “all-out elections” and having a Boundary Commission review of its wards so that the council has less political interference in the day-to-day running of its services and more strategic vision from its leaders. 

“Birmingham is a great city which has made a fantastic contribution to British history, but the council has been holding it back. This report makes clear that Birmingham risks losing its status as our second city for good if it does not start taking common sense steps to improve its performance now,” he said. 

“I thank Sir Bob and his team for their work and look forward to seeing how Birmingham, its leaders and the improvement panel I am appointing respond to the challenge he has set them. But be in no doubt that if they do not, the next government may decide to take much tougher action.” 

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email opininon@publicsectorexecutive.com

Comments

Lee Winfield   09/12/2014 at 12:55

As a birimingham resident born here and lived here all my life, i would like to know the people Sir Bob has spoken to? as they obviuosly know the city better than me or anybody else i know who and they have NOT spoken to!!, indeed we all know times are hard and we have had lots of cuts to most of the services in birmingham, and who is Pickles to judge!! they are all self-important, out of touch on £70,000+ a year salaries with all the grace and favour priveledges that comes with it, and would rather play candy crush rather tthan carry out the work WE pay them to do!!

Philip Walsh   29/12/2014 at 20:11

A complete lack of leadership is especially evident in the Revenues & Benefits department, where redundancies have neutered the capacity to deal with the public effectively. Thousands of pounds have been squandered on unnecessary and premature redundancies in benefits, while a team of agency staff (15 I believe) are being paid to plug the gaps at exorbitant cost. The management structure in Benefits is top-heavy (do they really need two operations managers with so few remaining staff?)Meanwhile, one look at BCC's Facebook page shows many Council Tax enquiries are not getting sorted by the privatised, Capita-run Revenues Service. This department is drifting, mired in an obsession with numerical performance and not caring about effective outcomes. A shake-up is long overdue.

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