Rising to the challenge of change

By on 09/07/2013 in Factsheets

The following is the speech delivered by the Leader of the Council, Sir Albert Bore, when unveiling his annual Leader’s Policy Statement on 9 July 2013.

After a year in power it is clear to me that this is a time of momentous challenge for local government.

No government has ever before attempted to remove a third of local government funding over four years.  But this Government has not only done that but just announced that it intends to take another 10% in 2015-16.

As Sir Merrick Cockell, the Conservative Chair of the LGA said last week:

“We are now in a position where unless we undertake a radical reform of public services, local communities will be failed.”

It appears that many people are now coming round to the view that this is the end of local government as we know it.

The Government has announced an additional £2bn of NHS money to go into a £3.8bn shared pot between health and social care after 2015.  This is a genuine step in the right direction, but it is only the first step. 

Cllr Sir Albert Bore

Cllr Sir Albert Bore

If nothing more is changed, there will need to be a 60% cut in all services other than social care and waste disposal by 2020.  We need a much more radical approach if we are to avoid that scenario.

Ministers do not seem to understand that integrating local public services is not simply a matter of will power amongst local leaders.  It requires them to open up Whitehall budgets and devolve them in a way that allows us to allocate them to integrated local services.

And then there was the single pot.  As proposed by Lord Heseltine this was to be £49bn of money spent on infrastructure, business, skills and housing, over five years, pooled together and devolved to local areas with no restrictions on how we used it.

What did we actually get?

We got £10bn of funding which is nearly all already devolved to local areas.

But, despite all of the challenges we face we can be proud of our achievements in the past year, as demonstrated in the document.

We are the government of this city and we have a responsibility to our communities to work for bigger goals. Our overall purpose remains unchanged and it can be captured in three words - fairness, prosperity and democracy.

Our cabinet portfolios themselves reflect our intention to focus on cross-cutting aims.  Despite the doubters, this system is already beginning to bed in and to encourage a more joined up approach by officers.  This gives us a good foundation on which to build further achievements.

We will work together for a fairer city in which the most vulnerable are protected, inequalities are reduced and life chances and opportunities are provided to all citizens, regardless of where they start in life.   A more equal city will be a safer, more prosperous city that will provide greater freedom to its citizens.

•    New floor targets, setting the minimum outcomes that everyone in the city should expect, across education, skills, employment and health.
•    Integrated Family Support and Child Action Zones.
•    Launching the Birmingham Education Partnership to promote school improvement across the city.
•    A Schools Development Plan to address the future need for school places in different parts of the city.
•    Ageing Well Plans for each District to begin a new localised approach to supporting older people to live in their community.
We will work together for a prosperous city, supporting enterprise and helping Greater Birmingham to take full advantage of new technologies and the opportunities of the green economy.
•    A resolution to the future of the Birmingham Markets and a city centre retail strategy.
•    The £125m Advanced Manufacturing Supply Chain Initiative that will help smaller companies to become globally competitive.
•    An Urban Mobility Plan for Birmingham to show how we will give people more transport options and reduce reliance on the car.
•    A Housing Growth Plan to show how we will begin to support the provision of the 80,000 additional homes the city will need in the years ahead.
•    And we will bring forward detailed plans to make Birmingham a much safer city by rolling out a 20mph limit on our residential roads.
We will work together to rebuild people's engagement in local democracy by putting local people and communities centre stage.
We have taken some important steps towards localisation and devolution in the past year, but now we need to make it real to local residents and communities - as called for by the scrutiny report from Cllr Trickett's committee.
So I am now issuing a “Localisation Challenge” to all members of this city council and to all of our staff.  We must all contribute to making devolution real if we are to change the centralised culture of the City Council.
•    District Committees must take on a more genuine decision making role, supported by better information and genuine local budgets, for example within the Housing Revenue Account.
•    Districts will produce an annual policy statement for their area and a Development Plan which will show how they will shape services in the future.
•    Senior officers across the Council will be given strategic responsibility for a place alongside their functional accountabilities.

During last year's budget consultation we were impressed by the activism and commitment of the many young people who took part in public meetings, defending their services and asking for a better future.

Our young people are the future and the hope of this city so their engagement in local democracy was an encouraging sign.

So this year we will have a particular focus on young people across all our services and do everything we can to support them in these difficult times. We have already created the Birmingham Jobs Fund with a £2m investment from the City Council and challenged employers to provide 1,000 apprenticeships in 100 days.

And I can tell you today that we have already received 750 pledges with another month to go.  That's good news for our young people and a great reflection on our business community.

Our overriding priorities for this year are to:

•    Protect as far as possible those worst affected by the cuts
•    Improve educational performance
•    Improve support to families and make young people and children safer
•    Help people into work
•    Set out clear long-term plans for new homes and transport infrastructure, and
•    Drive forward devolution and localisation.

Lord Mayor, this has been the year in which we have faced up to the immensity of the challenge ahead and the need for radical change.
It is not just the scale of the cuts, as I mentioned earlier, but the rapid changes in our economy and society that will bring new pressures on our services.

The challenge of change is real.  We cannot avoid responding to it.  But we should not leave it to others to determine how this city, our communities and this council are affected by these changes.  There is a clear role for an activist city council to give leadership in responding to these changes and in trying to shape the future that they create. We must modernise the council and try to equip our city for that future.

As the LGA has said, as a nation we need to “rewire” our public services if we are to deliver what people need with a lot less money.  But we also want to reform our local services because we are not happy with the outcomes they achieve.

As the Policy Statement document sets out, we will need to work in new ways.  To produce acceptable outcomes with much less money, we will need to reduce the need for our services arising in the first place.  That makes sense financially but it will also improve people's lives.

We also need to help communities to address issues directly and give individuals more personalised services to help them lead healthier, more fulfilled lives. Again this can save us money. But empowering communities and individuals is also a positive end in itself.

To achieve this shift we must break down the silos and integrate services. This will require a “triple devolution” – from government to the city region and the city and from the city to the neighbourhood.

In conclusion Lord Mayor, we have made real progress on the agenda I set out last June.  We have also recognised the tasks that lie ahead and put in place the work needed to address them.

I am convinced we can begin a period of radical change that will restate the role of the city council and create a model of city government that will again be copied by others in the years ahead.

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