Monthly Archives: December 2014

What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love & Understanding?

2014 has been quite a year.

I could leave it there, but I suspect you expect more.

So, here goes.

Birmingham is a great city with much already to be proud of and much to look forward to celebrating in the months and years ahead. It is the UK’s premier regional centre: I don’t say that in a petty, competitive, “we’re better than you” kind-of-way, but because the diversity our people, the variety of our places, the energy in our economy, the feedback from our visitors and much, much more combine to confirm this.

As a newcomer (albeit having spent eight years patrolling the eastern border), I immediately felt proud of Birmingham and I am ambitious for, and protective of, this admirably (if sometimes irritatingly) self-effacing and self-deprecating gem of a place. It is my strong desire that we are recognised for what we are: a city full of a thousand possibilities and quite capable of being the most magnificent example of urban renaissance.

And, as chief executive of the city council, I know that our organisation must now step up to the plate and fully play its part in realising this future. We are already pulling our weight in some key areas – not least in supporting the growth of the UK’s regional economy with the most potential – but we also have to recognise, accept and act on the big challenges here at the Council House. These have been well-rehearsed and comprehensively documented and I am clear that we should and will take them all seriously.

Hereon in we will need to demonstrate that our culture and leadership are changing, and changing permanently. It’s been put to me that Birmingham City Council is like plastic with memory; namely, that you can change its shape but, given time, it will always revert back to its original form. Our task is to prove the hypothesis wrong and, together, ensure that our organisation is both a shining beacon and leading example of openness and transparency; capable of being proud and humble at the same time; willing to lead from the front, middle and rear; creative and progressive in its problem-solving; and, above all else, obsessively focused on making a positive difference every day to people’s lives.

I have a growing sense that you are up for this mission and the tough journey ahead. I know just how difficult it is to lift yourself up and stay motivated when, on top of the “regular” pressures of being in local government at this time, there is a raft of criticism (albeit much of it constructive and designed to help, but some also gratuitous) that we also have to take into account and deal with promptly. My job – both in support of, and supported by the Leader, cabinet and council as a whole – is to work with all of you in the restatement of our value set, reaffirmation of our common purpose, refinement our priorities and, above all, the reinvigorate the improvement of all the key outcomes that will make the greatest difference to the wellbeing of our citizens.

In the New Year we will continue and accelerate the work that brings all of this into focus through an overarching “Future Council” programme. The details can wait for now, but the message is clear: now that the inspections and reviews are over we are going on the front foot, planning for and delivering a Birmingham City Council that will become as great as the city and the people it serves.

And so to more traditional matters.

I am reliably informed that Christmas and New Year are around the corner. I know this from the mess in the dining room (“are you ever going to wrap those presents and write those cards?”). I know this because I have now experienced the full moose effect. I know this because – and whisper it quietly – I am experiencing an old familiar sentimental feeling that is the result of loving this time of year because I can look forward to celebrating and relaxing with my family and friends. Yes, my wife will tell you that I’m as likely to be asleep in the front room as I am being sociable, being helpful and actively getting into the Christmas spirit. But the fact is that, even when I’m dozing (“I’m just resting my eyes”), I know they’re all there and we’re together catching up and chilling out and that is something I truly value.

So, whether or not you are on leave (and I do appreciate and thank those for whom Christmas means work), can I wish you all a peaceful and joyful Christmas and a very Happy New Year. Come back refreshed for in January we have to take on the world.

Best wishes,


PS Oh, and here’s some easy seasonal listening and a good cause (even if it’s still a rubbish song).



Spear of Destiny

Sir Bob Kerslake’s four month-long corporate health check of the council is nearing its conclusion and his report will almost certainly be published sometime early next week.

I expect that there will be plenty of food for thought and that we will have to produce some kind of action plan in response. However, I am also clear that the city council must continue to focus on those issues that it has itself already identified as “mission critical” if we are to serve the people of Birmingham effectively and proudly in the years to come.

It was with this thought very much in mind that I met 200 or so of our BEST Leaders last week. I wanted to give colleagues a clear message that, however much external advice we get – and we’re getting quite a lot at the moment – let’s not forget that we are quite capable of shaping our own future from within the organisation.

For example, through the Big Conversations we have been forging the values, purpose and operating models for the future city council, demonstrating to each other that we have the ideas, energy and commitment needed to move ourselves forward.

And, as we approach the time of year when the details of our proposed priorities for 2015/16 go before the public for consultation, it is important to remember that the shaping of the future council is, principally, our responsibility. I truly value constructive, informed external support and challenge as they aid understanding of the problems to be tackled and how they might be addressed. We should always be open to learning from others.

But, and it is a very important but, truly sustainable change only comes from within and, therefore, it is up to us to own the agenda of continuous improvement. At their very best, commissioners, reviewers and advisors (nay, even inspectors) bring welcome insight, stimulate constructive debate, and incentivise effort. But, for us to move forward authentically and convincingly, and in a way that will stick, we need to seize our destiny with both hands and prove that we have the motivation and imagination to make a positive difference everyday to the lives of our citizens.

So, as one of our BEST colleagues said: go out there and be positive – because positivity breeds positivity.