Kerslake: Progress update 1
Action (Plan) Stations
As you are only too well aware, there is no let up in the pace and importance of reform and improvement. The recommendations of the Kerslake Review are intended, in Sir Bob’s words, to ensure that “dial turning” changes are made to our culture and practices. As I said in my previous blog, the report presented a set of challenges to the council which can be summed up as ‘be modern, be transparent and be brave’. And we have to demonstrate convincingly that we are shaping up by the end of the calendar year.
With an action plan deadline from Sir Bob of the end of February, we need to respond positively, imaginatively and quickly and, with this in mind, production has commenced. It will need to be signed off by both the incoming Independent Improvement Panel and by our own Cabinet – the latter will consider the action plan formally on 16 February.
Lest there be any doubt, we are not simply writing a set of actions to “tick the box” for central government – or, for that matter, ourselves. We are committed to addressing the important issues raised and, as the senior responsible officer for the plan, I have, therefore, spent quite some time already drawing on a range of advice both from within and outside the council, reflecting on how best to prioritise, phase and implement our improvement work. What we have to do is too serious for a knee jerk reaction – although we do have to move fast (but with speed, not haste).
In a number of important (and reassuring) ways, implementing the recommendations will add extra momentum and focus to the thinking and planning we started in 2014 through the Big Conversations: most particularly, we have already made a good start on the questions “what kind of organisation do we intend to be?” and “how do we propose to deliver against that ambition?”. This is critical because it means you are already helping to shape our response to Kerslake.
We know things have to change and we must now sign up fully to that process in order to become the universally effective and credible council we want to be in the future. I am fully committed to making that happen and I take very seriously my responsibility for delivery. But I also know that trying to do everything at once is unlikely to deliver step change sufficiently; nor will rushing our fences embed the improvements we attempt because we will lack focus and capacity and stretch ourselves and our partners too thinly. Therefore, we need to balance the need to move quickly with the need to get it right.
What it is most important to do, and do quickly, is set out what we are trying to achieve through this plan and to communicate a clear direction and set of milestones so that we, our partners and, crucially, our residents understand the journey ahead. Some of this requires me to work with the council senior team – Members and officers – to “get our own house in order”: for example, how we behave, how we manage our finances, and how we make decisions are mission critical. But we will also need the ideas, support and commitment from a much wider group of people to foster positive change for the city and its many communities.
I have, therefore, designed and agreed with the Leader, the Cabinet and my immediate team an approach that creates the space and opportunity for others to collaborate with us; to co-produce the detail for the action plans; and jointly deliver them. We will be broadening and deepening the dialogue with internal and external “stakeholders” from the week beginning 2 February. For example, on Wednesday 4th there will be an event with partner organisations at which those attending will look, in particular, at how they can help in setting out the way forwards in establishing a City Leadership Group and agreeing a vision for our city. Other sessions are in train to engage group leaders, scrutiny chairs, MPs, officers and others.
However, I need to make it clear that the preparation and publication of our initial plan in February signals just the start of an ongoing and sustained engagement process. Regrettably, I cannot promise to consult everyone on everything at this time – Sir Bob’s deadline is too short. But I will, with the support of Members and officers, lead a new inclusive and more outward-looking approach to engaging with staff and partners as we formulate, deliver, review and reformulate the plan over the coming months.
So, here we go … let’s get on with making the difference together.