Birmingham must stand for respect and courage
I’m no fortune teller but, when it comes to local government, it’s unlikely that 2015 will be a good year for the roses.
Shrinking the state and therefore its funding will still be the order (or is that ordure?) of the day and there seems little likelihood that any permutation of the general election result will lead to significant changes in direction, at least in the short term. At the Institute for Fiscal Studies Paul Johnson, as ever, seems to have it pretty much nailed; we are only now approaching the half way mark in terms of deficit reduction so we just need to knuckle down for the long haul.
So, we start this new year pretty much as we have started the previous four, constantly evaluating the options we have by which we can square the triangle of rising demand and expectations, undiminished statutory responsibilities, and falling spending power. Whatever the solutions turn out to be for this Herculean task, I still find it important to remind myself that we must not allow context to define our response.
Last year in Birmingham we undertook a set of ‘Big Conversations’ in which more than 2,000 colleagues reflected on the importance of being clear about, and remaining faithful to our shared values, common purpose and agreed outcomes. However hard it is to put an understandable preoccupation with cuts to the back of the mind, we nevertheless made a determined effort to focus our discussions about the future on the kind of council we need to be, the sort of people we need to be and the differences we need to make to the lives of the citizens in our many and varied communities.
Of course, in Birmingham there was (and still is) the addedfrisson of being under very close scrutiny by various parts of central government and all the attendant telling you what you need to do that goes with being in detention but this just reinforces for me the absolute necessity of taking the initiative yourself and investing time and energy (and whatever funding is left) in the right things and, of course, then doing them right. If we are not clear about the reason why we turn up to work every day; if we are not certain about the behaviours and performance expected of us; if we are confused about what outcomes we are trying to improve, then we make managing the reductions all the more difficult and, potentially, all the more damaging.
So, as I polish my shoes, comb my hair and get my satchel ready (a spare pair of pants included in case of an accident) so that I am ready for my return to the fray, I tell myself that it is important not just to be practically prepared. I need to be mentally prepared too and that means that I must remind myself morning, noon and night that what Birmingham City Council needs to stand for are qualities such as empathy, respect and courage; and that what it exists for is to make a positive difference everyday to people’s lives.
So, Happy New Year to you all!
A luta continua.