‘Movin’ On Up’
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.