So, two weeks of leave have passed. Have they induced cabin fever or has the sunshine left me re-energised?
Probably a little of each.
But I still have sufficient clarity of mind to know that there are five things that must preoccupy us all in the coming weeks and months.
Sustaining the focus on improving children’s services – safeguarding and education
I don’t care what anybody else out there thinks or says, delivering our improvement plans and creating a system in which children are as safe and as well educated as they can be is the number one priority for us all at the city council.
After a positive first year under the supervision of Lord Warner (now departed), we are on course. But we now shift up a gear and have to deliver more in year two.
Sir Mike Tomlinson is with us until next Easter. Let’s plan to give him the best farewell party possible – ie one where he’s delighted to leave because we’ve delivered, having addressed Kershaw and Clarke by building a strong relationship and positive reputation with our schools and our key delivery vehicle, the Birmingham Education Partnership.
Intensifying the work on the design of the future council.
We are getting closer to, but have not yet reached, the point at which our future operating model is fully formulated and signed off politically. There is further work for the Leader and Cabinet, supported by the Corporate Leadership Team, to complete between now and mid-Autumn to ensure that we know clearly what kind of council we are going to become by 2020.
Whilst I’ve been away, the Leader has been in detailed discussions with members of my team to ensure the programme for the remaining design work is clear, deadlines are kept to, and the accompanying Member, staff and public engagement in the process is agreed.
We must not forget that we need this 2020 vision if we are to save £240m intelligently over the next three years.
Driving forward the reform of corporate governance.
Last summer we underwent a metaphorical vivisection and the diagnosis was delivered to the gasping patient as our 2014 Christmas present. It was one that came without a gift certificate.
We have to change our ways. And we are. But we need to do more – and faster. The Birmingham Independent Improvement Panel gave us the proverbial ‘mixed review’ in the middle of last month and we don’t want another one.
This means changes for all of us: the political leadership, elected members in the round; and, of course, officers. Clearer roles and responsibilities; the banishment of ‘I always know best’ attitudes; open and brave decision-making as the default; and new ways of working in partnership are some of the key areas we will all be focusing on.
And, harking back to my 360 blog, I’m going to be tougher, more quickly, where I don’t see my colleagues – at all levels, including in my immediate team – behaving and operating how I expect them. Some of you are telling me that some of the time things are definitely better – ie that values and behaviours are starting to get some traction. But not enough has changed yet and we need to accelerate.
I’m not suddenly going to ditch Dr Jekyll for Mr Hyde, but I will be nicely (but firmly) less patient with those off-message. CLT will need to walk the talk as much as anyone – no, make that more given we are supposed to be leading by example. So, watch, watch out but, crucially, take a lead yourself (if you haven’t already) and make the difference.
Growing the UK economy through a Midlands Engine – a Combined Authority for the West Midlands
With plenty around to tax us and make us lust for some light relief, here’s a mega-opportunity to hit the heights and show the whole country just what we and our partners are capable of. Three Local Enterprise Partnerships and around twenty councils, including the seven Mets, are working on delivering a devolution deal for the West Midlands that will bring more jobs, more growth and more chances to reform and improve public services than at any other point in the last twenty five years.
It probably won’t turn out to be light relief, but what we have is the chance to take an economy that’s already getting pumped up and put it – metaphorically, of course – on steroids. The pre-conditions for doing a deal with government are already in place: we are the best performing part of the country (outside London and the South East) and have made one of best recoveries from the recession of any sub-region. Our own LEP area is quite possibly the strongest in the country and, when we ally with the similarly potent Black Country and Coventry & Warwickshire LEP areas, there’s no stopping us making this combined authority the most effective of them all.
More information can be found here: http://www.westmidlandscombinedauthority.org.uk/pages/wmca.aspx
We need to confound the critics. We’re not beyond hope as some would have us believe.
And here’s just five reasons why:
- We won the 2015 MJ Award for financial innovation – the creative funding of The Paradise Circus enabling works
- Cllr Sharon Thompson won a West Midlands Woman of the Year Award for her Outstanding Contribution for Social Change and Julie Newbold, Head of School Admissions and Pupil Placements was shortlisted for the Outstanding Contribution to Education category
- The 10th annual Pupil Placements Awards took place at the Council House on 17 June. This is an inspiring event celebrating the academic achievements of young people in alternative provision across the city, who have arrived in Birmingham from all over the world.
- The final round of judging for Britain in Bloom has taken place, and we’ve been told by the judges that they were very impressed, especially with the close working partnerships that we have with our community groups and third sector partners and with the sheer diversity of the community participants. We await the results on 16th October – fingers crossed!
- The Economy directorate has retained its Investors in People (IIP) accreditation, with the Future Council and the new values and behaviours work being praised
But I’m sure that there’s more that you could add to the list – so please write and let me know what’s missing.