Leader of the Council Cllr John Clancy and Chief Executive Mark Rogers reflect on the Birmingham Independent Improvement Panel’s report and letter.
We very much welcome the latest report from the Independent Birmingham Independent Improvement Panel which recognises the tangible progress the city council has made since the start of 2015, and also points to some tough challenges that lay ahead.
We are glad that the Panel is to continue to act as Birmingham City Council’s critical friend, monitoring our progress and providing expert help where necessary to make Birmingham a better place.
The Panel recognises our absolute determination to address head-on concerns raised in the Kerslake Review and to move towards a more inclusive partnership-based governance approach.
This means there has to be a radical culture change in the way the council behaves and interacts with all of Birmingham’s citizens, whoever they are and wherever they live. Change on such a scale is often uncomfortable for any large organisation and is rarely easy to achieve quickly, but we will redouble our efforts to speed the pace of reform.
We have been open about what has been achieved so far, and what still needs to be done. The Panel has welcomed the council’s self-assessment progress report ‘Strengthening the Foundations’ and recognises that we are not yet even half way through a complex improvement programme.
So we are pleased to see that the panel has recognised our ‘focused activity’ in addressing outstanding recommendations from Lord Kerslake’s report and has noted that ‘new skills, insights and contributions’ from additional senior management staff have made a positive difference. The Panel has also noted that the council ‘has made progress in addressing many of its own improvement priorities and handled effectively some unexpected external events and challenges’.
We note that the panel is fully supportive of the appointment of four assistant council leaders who are leading a drive towards greater devolution and developing new ways of involving and listening to the views of citizens’. This, as the panel letter states, demonstrates a commitment to look outward from the Council House and to take seriously the views and experiences of residents in each local area.
It is clear given the immense financial challenges faced by Birmingham and indeed all councils that the end of long and demanding improvement journey is not just around the corner. We are two years into a five-year plan, we are progressing steadily, but we cannot afford for a second to take our feet off the accelerator – and we shall not do so.
As the Panel has warned, Birmingham City Council is in the process of setting one of the most challenging budgets as we consider spending plans for 2017-2018 and beyond. The Panel has described the financial challenges as a ‘mammoth task’, and we do not disagree with that assessment, but it is a task we are going to tackle together – and tackle successfully.
The local government landscape is changing as never before. Councils across the country face huge cuts in Government grant and are seeking transformational and innovative ways to deliver services and work with partners, and Birmingham is no exception. We cannot behave as we did in the past, life has changed irrevocably for the public sector and we have to adapt to these changes and come up with new and better ways of working.
We are determined to continue the wider work to improve ourselves and will not lose sight of our responsibility to improve safeguarding and education services, and as the Panel has stated Birmingham, in common with other authorities, is facing severe financial pressure on its adult social care budget as a result of demographic changes and growth in demand.
For certain, there are the toughest of times ahead, but we have a strong team around us who are as are committed we are about delivering positive change for Birmingham. Working together we will succeed.