What is the Midlands Engine I hear you say? How does it link to the Combined Authority? And what is Birmingham’s role in it?
As an alternative to bamboozling you with detailed plans or lengthy explanations, let me tell you that it is simply a public-private partnership (councils and Local Enterprise Partnerships – LEPs) across the Midlands whose core purpose is to harvest greater investment and drive more infrastructure initiatives, especially transport, to accelerate growth and bring more jobs to the region.
The Government and, in particular, the Prime Minister, Theresa May, see the Midlands Engine as a key driver of economic growth in the UK, with the West Midlands Combined Authority and Birmingham itself as central forces in this.
There has been some important coverage about this in the press recently, and I strongly encourage you to read this article: http://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/midlands-news/theresa-may-plan-build-midlands-11763399
You’ll see that it reinforces a message we have been pushing for some time, namely that the Midlands is a vital part of the national economy – and that the West Midlands and Birmingham, especially, have both huge potential and a renewed energy and will help deliver both more growth and a re-balancing of the UK economy.
And with the Conservative Party conference coming to the city at the start of October we should expect more announcements and excitement in the coming weeks.
So, be in no doubt that both political and economic momentum are building in our favour. The city, deservedly, is enjoying and benefitting from an economic renaissance:
- the construction of the new HQ building for HSBC’s UK retail banking arm is well under way;
- the HQ for High Speed 2 Ltd is now established and growing;
- the half a billion-pound Paradise Development is well underway;
- the Enterprise Zone is expanding;
- Birmingham Smithfield is coming to market for investors and developers and will transform the visitor economy;
- the new Hydraforce factory at the Advanced Manufacturing Hub in Aston is diversifying the economy and creating local jobs.
The list goes on (and on), demonstrating a renewed confidence and investment in Birmingham and making it clearer than ever that we are Britain’s second city and an engine in our own right.
As we look to the future and think innovatively about how we utilise our assets, invest in infrastructure and ensure all our residents benefit, we can also look to the past for inspiration.
On this front, the Government itself has been looking to the Midlands, and more specifically Birmingham. The policy initiatives of one of the founding fathers of modern Birmingham and local, municipal government, Joseph Chamberlain, have come into focus. His call for civic entrepreneurship, social reform and investment in infrastructure helped pave the way for a successful and dynamic city.
A century later these are all important issues for Theresa May’s administration because they are all seen as vital to a prosperous and inclusive economy. Infrastructure, in particular, formed the bedrock of Birmingham’s past industrial successes; with the canal network, followed by the railways supporting industrial growth and opening up markets.
So the new wave of investment in infrastructure is hugely important and the Government’s commitment is vital. High Speed 2 is the big ticket item. Much like the Victorian railways, high speed rail will not only improve the movement of people and goods but, more importantly, also act as a catalyst for growth. The arrival of High Speed 2 will mark a new era for the city, the West Midlands and the Midlands, further accelerating and building on the great successes we have experienced to date. How we utilise its potential has been the focus for significant work for the combined authority, the Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP and, of course, the city council.
The Curzon Investment Plan, launched last week, demonstrates local commitment and innovation harnessing the opportunities of national infrastructure investment with the local tools made available through an expanded Enterprise Zone. The plan is the culmination of two years of technical work, negotiation and planning. It follows the Curzon Masterplan, launched in 2014, which came as an exciting innovation in itself with a vision to utilise investment in a new high speed rail station to unlock growth. The investment plan represents nearly a billion pounds of local infrastructure funding to drive growth not only in the city centre but across a wider geography. Improving transport links from High Speed 2 to local communities is a key component of the plan and funding is available to bring the Midland Metro into east Birmingham and north Solihull.
As we forge ahead, we will need to harness initiatives such as High Speed 2 and success stories such as the city centre to benefit the whole of Birmingham and drive the Midlands Engine to success. What we must also do is utilise this opportunity and the lessons learnt from the past to shape the future for residents. Again, Joseph Chamberlain provides some very useful pointers here. Clearly, we have much more to do.
And a final message for now. As we shape the Midlands Engine what will success look like? It’s simple. Inclusive growth, which ensures more good jobs are created for local people who, themselves, have the skills to secure them.
The art of a productive life is being willing to readjust constantly to ever-changing surroundings. So, as we deliver improvement and transformation in our organisation, the wider world refuses to stop turning. But in the midst of all of this flux we must remain constant in our unswerving commitment to ensuring that Birmingham, and everyone who lives, learns, works and plays here, thrives.
Some changes we can and should anticipate, but others will surprise us (Brexit anyone?). And that is why we – the council and partners around the city – need to have the flexibility and agility to respond rapidly and positively.
Ensuring that we have this capability and a focus on the future is, in good part, why we created our Future Council programme. It was always intended to be more than just the means of harnessing and coordinating the three significant and important improvement journeys relating to children’s safeguarding, education governance and the corporate health of the organisation.
Our long term ambition is to create an organisation that has a shared purpose, values and supporting behaviours, thereby creating a culture in which making a positive difference every day to people’s live is the start, middle and end of all that we come to work to do.
To channel the purpose and values we also need an organisation that has a clear vision and a mutually-reinforcing set of priorities, priority outcomes and design principles that everyone is working to – and ensures that all our resources (human and financial) are fully aligned to deliver against these. And, crucially, we need to be an organisation that can work collaboratively with our partners around the city, regionally and UK wide.
And, whilst we have made important progress with our improvement plans, we still have some distance to travel before we fully realise the wider ambition of being a sustainably high performing ‘council of the future’.
The first phase of the Future Council programme is reaching a conclusion and it is clear that we have largely established the foundation for the next part of our journey. My thanks go out to everyone who made a contribution to this work; you have helped to ensure that we are further ahead in our partnership relationships, our workforce planning and development, our support service approach to delivery, our operating model thinking and our work with communities.
Our next challenge (and it is one that we all need to share in again) is to build on the progress already made – ensuring that we are all signed up to the Whole Council approach to change. This will mean that we take the purpose, vision, priorities and priority outcomes and link them via a ‘golden thread’ to our organisational design principles and the key changes we need to concentrate on – our Big Moves.
Over the summer we will be re-testing our purpose, values and behaviours to ensure that they still have strong currency amongst us. At the same time, the Leader and Cabinet, collaborating with the other group leaders, will review and reset our vision, priorities and priority outcomes to ensure they fully align to Cllr Clancy’s ambitions and mandate. And, importantly, we’ll also be working closely with our partners to get these right for Birmingham.
We will push forward initiatives such as the creation of a workforce Improvement Hub which will provide us with the professional learning and development, support and capacity to harness all of the great ideas and innovation around the council and bend them to delivering the council’s vision, etc.
We have proved that we’re not short of ideas and we’re hungry and ready to learn from others:
But we also recognise that we need to coordinate and shape this great work against our own vision, priorities, priority outcomes, design principles, big moves and, of course, available resources.
The Hub will have four key elements: a ‘change academy’ (for example, providing learning and training in demand analysis, lean systems thinking, etc), an innovation lab, an ideas exchange forum and an improvement team. I’m really excited about this development and we’ll be sharing more information about the Hub over the coming weeks and months.
We will, of course, also need to stay focused on ensuring that we deliver against a very demanding set of budget savings.
So, the next phase of building a council for the future is in large part about:
- creating a culture that has focus on the basics (purpose, vision, priorities, priority outcomes, design principles and big moves);
- supporting collaboration within the council and with our partners;
- actively encouraging change and innovation (the Improvement Hub); and
- committing, first and foremost, to the people of the city.
This will undoubtedly take time so we want to use this summer to work with as many of you as possible to explain how we can make this happen and get your views on what you think this should be like when we get there.
This work is not something the strategic directors or I can do on our own. It’s also not something that can solely be owned by a project team. It is a goal that we will all need to share and work towards and, when we do, then we will know that we have created the council of the future.
The Golden Thread
Purpose: the reason our organisation exists
To make a positive difference every day to people’s lives.
Vision: our ambition for the city of Birmingham and the council
“In the face of austerity, we want everyone who calls Birmingham ‘home’ to have a happy, healthy life here.
We want everyone to have access to a decent affordable home, a good job, a great school for their children and extra help if they need it.”
NB Under review over the summer.
Priorities: these are the six key areas that we are focusing on to deliver the vision:
- A strong economy
- Safety and opportunity for all children
- A great future for young people
- Thriving local communities
- A healthy, happy city
- A modern council
NB Under review over the summer.
Priority outcomes: these are the measures set out in the Council’s Business Plan.
NB Under review over the summer.
Design Principles: these are the ‘rules of the game’ but which will help us to design the future shape of the council.
- We will work with partners to take a whole system approach, with citizens and neighbourhoods at the heart of our decision making
- We will target our resources on our key priorities and outcomes using evidence to inform our decision making
- We will promote the independence of service users and also enable them to step up and be part of designing solutions
- We will operate as an agile organisation, through our workforce, commissioning, procurement and delivery models
- We will use our strategic assets to leverage economic growth and investment across the city
- We will make transparency and openness our default position
Big moves: these are the major change initiatives that all of us will be driving forward in the weeks/months/years ahead.
They will be agreed over the summer but are likely to include such programmes as the children’s trust, health and social care integration, waste and recycling, etc.
Alastair Henbrey and Laura Slatcher are Senior Business Analysts with the Requirements Management team in Service Birmingham. In June they attended GovJam, a global event held in 32 cities across 5 continents.
Inspired by the secret theme (see video above) we embarked on a 48-hour journey of creativity and insight. Working from Impact Hub in Digbeth with people we had never met, we were split across two teams to collaborate on our interpretation of the theme – and relating this to local issues. By the end of the two days we had gone from formulating our idea to pitching a prototype.
Our two team’s ideas were around trust and belonging. The ideas were developed through the insight gathered from Birmingham’s citizens, visitors and businesses. If the idea failed, we worked quickly to adapt it and then tested it again.
Led by Chris Sadler and Daniel Blyden of Spaghetti Jams, we also learnt theory around design thinking. This supported our collaborative process in understanding the needs of our city and turning this, at pace, into something to meet that demand.
The collaboration wasn’t just locally bound; we had Skype calls with the jammers in Leeds and Brazil to find out what they were working on and pitch our ideas for feedback.
Laura’s reflections –
Laura’s team looked at belonging, and how might a person feel that they belong. After a first trip out to speak to Birmingham’s people (and getting over the fear of stopping strangers in the street), we adapted this to belonging in the workplace.
We pulled together a prototype, a cardboard smartphone to show how an individual may want to access information and advice on the less formal and spoken about aspects of belonging in the workplace – ‘how things are done around here’. A few iterations later, following valuable insight into how citizens and businesses would want to use the application, we had our final prototype ready to be taken forward with more formal user testing.
Critically, GovJam provides a space where it’s safe to fail and try again, and in fact this is part of the experience in really listening to the views and needs of the city. I’ve come away with some new contacts, and tools and techniques to apply in my day job for understanding user needs. But most importantly, I came away with a sense of achievement in developing an idea so quickly. Collaborating and listening to the views of our city are so important in ensuring that services are delivered to meet the needs of citizens, and the hands-on approach of GovJam emphasises this and challenged my thinking and my assumptions.
Alastair’s reflections –
Alastair’s team looked at trust, and how it can be built and lost. An initial vox pop at the coach station and the HMV institute revealed (counter intuitively) that the quickest way to get trust was to lie! We decided that this wasn’t the best basis for an idea, so refined our objective to looking at building trust between individuals and organisations.
Our initial prototype was a Lego based extravaganza of architecture, featuring bespoke collaborative and interactive spaces but with the drawback of being quite difficult to move. Following feedback from fellow jammers and potential users, we moved to a ‘toolkit’ approach that retained the principles of using space but could be delivered in different scenarios and supported by individual and peer reflections. We ended up with the foundations of something potentially appealing and it would be interesting to see where it could go.
Having experience of the prototyping process already, I was most interested in the collaborative element of the jam, bringing together people from different backgrounds and knowledge under a common theme. The approach of ‘doing not talking’ was also a refreshing way delivering something from idea to testing in a short space of time.