Monthly Archives: February 2015
Future Council – Our Plan 1
Who’d Be A Governor? That’d Be You Then!
Education changes lives.
Consequently, the City Council is working closely with its schools and, in particular, the Birmingham Education Partnership, to promote a clear and ambitious vision for education in the city. Our shared ambition is to ensure that, no later than from 2018, all schools are at least good and, preferably outstanding. To be successful we know that schools need an unwavering commitment to high achievement for all children and young people, strong strategic leadership, sound financial management, the very best learning and teaching policies, rigorous HR processes and, above all, excellent governance.
It is widely recognised that school governors are the most important volunteer workforce in the education system, and that every school benefits from a skilled team of governors who can provide effective and appropriate support and challenge to the school’s employed professional leadership. That is why I am personally encouraging colleagues across the City Council to share in this responsibility to support our schools by becoming a governor, offering their enthusiasm, expertise and experience at a time when raising standards has never been so important. To find out more about the requirements of the role, the time commitment, support available and how to apply visit: www.birmingham.gov.uk/school-governors
I am also giving my backing to the recruitment of City Council colleagues to serve on Interim Executive Boards (IEB), temporary bodies that are established to accelerate the improvement of standards and attainment at schools that have been identified as failing to provide a good quality of education, as evidenced by Ofsted judgements, assessment results or other indicators.
In such circumstances an IEB replaces the school’s governing body and provides executive leadership to ensure school improvement through the successful implementation of the Local Authority Statement of Action and, in all likelihood, to lead the school through conversion to Academy status. Like school governors, IEB members give strategic direction, hold the Headteacher/Principal to account for educational performance. They also manage the school’s financial resources. As with governing bodies, IEBs benefit from skills and expertise drawn from outside of an educational setting.
To find out more and to apply to become a member of an IEB in Birmingham contact our Governor Recruitment Officer, Alison Hicks, by emailing email@example.com
Our Schools Need You!
Future Council – Our Plan 2
Magna Carta: The Sequel
As I said in last week’s blog (16 February), it is now time to develop our own City Council-led narrative for change and to persuade, mobilise and engage the whole city in supporting us to take forward our improvement.
We cannot achieve lasting change for the better simply by following instructions from inspectors, reviewers and commissioners, however valuable they are. The future of Birmingham must be made in Birmingham, and the future of Birmingham City Council must be owned by all its councillors, its staff and the people we are here to serve. This is something that the Improvement Panel is very clear about. They want to support us in developing our own narrative of change.
Above all, it is down to us to change our own behaviour and live by the values we want the City Council to stand for in the future.
But none of that means for a second that we should disengage from the national agenda. We need to spend more time, not less, learning from what other councils do. My role as President of SOLACE is immensely valuable to me, not least because it reminds me that Birmingham, special as it is, is not unique and faces the same challenges as many other places.
Neither should we stop lobbying hard for changes in national policy that this city needs. The people of Birmingham should expect their City Council to stand up for their interests and this is a vital part of our local democracy. And this General Election year is a crucial time for that lobbying.
What has become apparent through the devolution debate is that we live in one of the most centralised democracies in the world (allegedly second only to Albania!) and that means a vast amount of what we do and how we do it is effectively decided in Westminster and Whitehall. For example, over two thirds of our income comes from central government and, as they say, “s/he who pays the piper calls the tune”.
If we want to realise in full all our ambitions for this great city we need to secure the powers, the funding and the freedoms to make our own choices and deliver our own plans.
Of course, we recognise that if government is to listen then we must improve our own internal functioning, as well as strengthening governance arrangements between those councils for whom collaboration will maximise the benefits for local people. In particular, this means continuing the work to put in place a Combined Authority to steer decisions at the city region level about the economy and public service reform. Work is now well in hand to take this forward faster during 2015.
In parallel, working in partnership with the other Core Cities (Bristol, Cardiff, Nottingham, Sheffield, Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle, Glasgow and Edinburgh), we have been pushing hard for the devolution of greater powers and freedoms so that we can do our job better.
That brings me to my title – and the bit where you can play your part. A couple of weeks ago in Glasgow, the Core Cities’ leaders and mayors signed a New Charter for Local Freedom, to mark the 800th Anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta. The original document was about limiting the powers of the King and establishing rights such as a fair trial for the first time. It later inspired the development of our Parliament and the United States Declaration of Independence.
This modern local government version calls for the devolution of (principally economic growth-related) powers and finances to councils and, as a corollary, for these councils to commit to radical public service reforms. If this New Charter was implemented by the next government it would radically alter, for the better, the shape of our Future Council programme.
I have already added my name to the Charter and now you can too. I would urge everyone who wants to see a better future for our cities and for local government to sign up to the Charter. You can do so here.
And please ask everyone who believes in the future of Birmingham to sign up as well.
It’s a little over a year since Standing Up For Birmingham was launched. Much has happened since November 2013 and you can familiarise yourself by visiting www.standingupforbirmingham.wordpress.com
This campaign is going to gain greater significance as we shape and then implement the Future Council programme – and I sincerely hope that you’ll make your contribution both at the design stage, as well as in delivering on our agreed commitments.
To help you as you think about how to make a difference, I have set out below the purpose of the campaign:
“Standing Up For Birmingham is about the people of the city being encouraged, aided and abetted to collaborate and come up with innovative new ways of working together to the advantage of their neighbourhoods.
“#SU4Brum also recognises and celebrates the great work that communities have already done, using their successes to motivate more individuals and groups to come forward and make a distinctive difference by designing and implementing their own initiatives.
“In all this, the City Council is learning how best to perform an enabling role, one that helps to grow and value this active citizenship.”
Standing Up For Birmingham isn’t just a rallying call, let alone simply a soundbite. It is a serious and sustained commitment to shifting the balance of power in favour of local people and local decision-making. Or, in my preferred jargon, moving from hierarchical power to networked influenced.
And it is not just the domain of a few citizens and officers. When we get our head round exactly what we consider this element of the Future Council programme should needs to look like, then #SU4Brum will be everyone’s business. The changing shape of the council demands this (fewer priorities to be delivered with less cash), but the needs and demands of our citizens demand this more.
And, as we have agreed, our job is to make a positive difference everyday to people’s lives – so this campaign is most definitely our business.
So, a hat trick for you this week.
The ‘Future Council’ Plan
Today (Monday 16 February) the Cabinet is being asked to approve an improvement plan that seeks to address the recommendations in Sir Bob Kerslake’s report “Birmingham City Council’s governance and organisational capabilities: an independent review”.
The plan has been developed at pace, as required both by Sir Bob Kerslake and the Independent Improvement Panel. There have been a small number of ‘set piece’ discussions to inform the formulation of the plan, involving the council’s political leadership, opposition group leaders, a selection of stakeholders, staff and a number of others. However, there will be much more engagement as we move into implementation. This is partly because there will be more time available to us, but also – crucially – because we need to ensure as much ‘co-production’ and ‘co-ownership’ as possible in putting the proposed solutions in place.
Members of the Independent Improvement Panel have, as you would expect, been reviewing the emerging plan and the Chair (John Crabtree) and the Deputy Chair (Frances Done) are in agreement that the present version should now come to Cabinet. Notwithstanding this, the Panel has not yet given its own seal of approval and will not be in a position to do so until 18 March when all four of its members meet formally in full for the first time here in Birmingham. In my view, it is helpful to have this time between Cabinet and the Panel meeting to make any necessary further refinements to the plan.
Now that we are on the cusp of tipping from action planning into full implementation mode, I think it appropriate to start talking in a different language. I am as guilty as anyone of going on about ‘Kerslake this’, ‘Tomlinson that’ and ‘Warner the other’, but hereon in we should be speaking of our plan.
Only we – the elected members and officers of the city council, along with our partners and the citizens of the city – can lead the improvements that our several and serial reviewers and inspectors have unequivocally stated we need to make. So, no more talk of ‘The Kerskale Plan’, ‘The Tomlinson Plan’ or the ‘Warner Plan’.
Today, and henceforth, let us speak only of the ‘Future Council’ plan. Our plan for self-directed improvement.
Mobilising the city
As the action planning referred to above has progressed, increasing thought has been given as to how to facilitate the creation of an independent ‘Birmingham leadership group’ (recommendation 8), the vehicle through which a long-term vision for the city – and city-wide partnership arrangements – could be re-created.
The council is acutely aware of the criticisms levelled at it by some in the city with regard to our historic approach to partnerships. We are determined, therefore, to make sure that we come at this in the right way and create something that is of value to our partners, our citizens and ourselves. An initial and informal partnership event was held on 4th February to open up the dialogue and get an early feel for how those present thought we might, together, tackle this opportunity. It was a very positive start and it is clear that there is a wealth of support and goodwill from partners for working collectively. As you might expect, the ideas were many and varied and the next step must be to work through the feedback from that event (and, it is important to note, other sources) to determine how we should begin to approach this task and involve a much wider set of interested parties.
What you won’t know, until now, is that the Chair of the Independent Improvement Panel is looking to take the lead on behalf of the Panel for this recommendation, given its importance for future relationships. Between us, therefore, we will want to take forward further dialogue with a wide range of partners, and we will welcome people sharing their ideas and opinions with us.
And one of the questions you may well want to consider is whether or not the language of a ‘leadership group’ is helpful. What we are seeking, it seems to me, is to arrive at a shared ambition/vision for the city, some common priorities, and the collective improvement of some key outcomes that matter most to local people. It is not necessarily axiomatic that a leadership group is the best construct to fulfil such a purpose – assuming we agree that that is what we’re aiming for in the first place!
Anyway, what is clearly understood is that there are many people who want to help and want to get started quickly, and we are grateful for their enthusiasm. We also want to make sure that this group is different to what has gone before and right for Birmingham – so we need a little time to think. Whilst our existing partners have a critical part to play, we also need to identify and engage with those potential partners and communities that we have less of a history with. The city is very diverse and any future engagement arrangements need to reflect this.
Our improvement plan has the end of March as a deadline for agreeing an outline approach and a summer deadline for having this in place. We must all commit to keeping to this deadline, and the Panel, through John Crabtree, will monitor progress on this specific action at its March meeting, and all future meetings. Partners should see further signs of activity over the coming weeks, so this is really a plea to bear with us. We have a lot to do and whilst it is tempting to put something in place quickly we must get this right. Thank you for your patience.
Sir Bob, as previously reported, has handed over the baton to the Independent Improvement Panel. Sir Bob also retires later this month and we wish him well in whatever he does next.
I hope he likes Nick Cave as much as I do: http://youtu.be/vz0FSG9h-GI
Post Post Script
The next blog will coincide with the completion of my first 12 months at Birmingham City Council. I will, of course, have some reflections of my own, but it would be fascinating – and much more interesting – to have some thoughts from yourselves. All contributions to firstname.lastname@example.org for collation.
Just before Christmas I had the pleasure of sitting down with an eclectic mix of “curry heads” to discuss how I might avoid falling back on a network of the “usual suspects” for the periodic “reality checks” that I know I’ll need if I’m to avoid disappearing up the “backside of my own self-importance”. (Apologies for the “” overload – and yet another reference to fundaments. There’s more to come by the way.)
Because life has been so frenetic since that evening, I haven’t really found the opportunity to take the reflections on board and attempt to arrange them into something tangible and meaningful, let alone utilitarian. But the autonomic bits of my brain have clearly been working on it and I think I have, as much by accident as design, discovered that I have already started taking on board three bits of advice.
Firstly, to go all Shakespeare on you (yes, that well known former resident of Greater Birmingham – ha, ha!), keep in mind a maxim that’s actually in “plain view” and, therefore, also hidden. Namely, “This above all; to thine own self be true”. In a world where you are not master or mistress – and be assured we are neither – don’t lose sight of what makes you tick. It’s precious and needs preserving through “thick and thin”. Unless, of course, you’re a sociopath.
Next, “go see”. At the risk of inflicting some “cod” lean psychology on you, “Doing The Gemba Walk” on a regular basis should be the “next big thing”. If lean purity isn’t your idea of fun, you can still promise yourself to get out a bit, look around and ask questions from a citizen perspective. Puts a day of meetings, emails and Council House conversations into context.
And the third tine on the “fork of real life”? Phone up one of your complainants on a regular basis. It’s illuminating and will stop you from simply signing off the letters or response without actually thinking that much about them.
And, to end, here’s something that I learnt from my time at Solihull – without the benefit of curry. Encourage your colleagues to create their own narrative about these things – and anything else that tells the tale of your values and your place. The power of stories is deep rooted in our learning tradition. Let’s preserve it.
“Onwards and upwards.”
This is the latest column Mark Rogers has written for the Municipal Journal in his capacity as President of the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers (SOLACE). The views expressed herein should not be assumed to be those of the City Council.