Monthly Archives: March 2015

The Race Is On

Colleagues

Future Council

This morning the first progress report on our implementation of the recommendations of the Kerslake Review is published by the Independent Improvement Panel. The Panel has sent a letter to the Leader of the Council and also published a short supporting report – both of which can be found here: http://birminghamnewsroom.com/organisation-improvement-plan/

You can also find a press statement from the Panel here along with our own response here.

As you will know from earlier blogs, we will be wrapping up all the actions arising from the Kerslake Review inside our overarching “Future Council Programme”. The scoping work will be completed during April so, for now, we still have a discrete document called “Organisational Improvement – Year One Action Plan” – to be found here.

It is clear to me from the Panel’s letter that we are making progress. For a start, the action plan has been signed off. But there is also recognition that we have taken some important early steps – for example, tackling the recommendations about human resources, corporate services and strategic capacity. In fact, work is underway across all the recommendations and, in due course, we will upload our own monthly reports so that you can see the detail of how much progress we are making. (In a few days there will be new, dedicated webpages for “Future Council” where you will be able to find all the information you need.)

There are, of course, challenges ahead and the letter to the Leader clearly sets these out. Most importantly, from my perspective, if we are to succeed in transforming this organisation both culturally and in its operating model(s), then we need to remain focused on living up to our values and delivering our core purpose. The Panel and, in due course, the Secretary of State at the Department of Communities and Local Government, will want to see – more than anything else – that we are different in our behaviours as well as our practices.

This first Panel report indicates that we are on the journey. To reach the destination requires us all to be working from the same map, headed in the same direction. Let’s keep up the good start and reach the goal of excellence.

Thanks

Mark

Birmingham is bouncing back

Last week I joined the Greater Birmingham delegation at MIPIM, the world’s largest and – arguably – most important property conference and exhibition. The event, which attracts 21,000 property professionals from 93 countries, provides one of the region’s best opportunities to match investors with our development opportunities in commercial, residential, retail and housing sectors.

Increasing confidence in the market and our own city’s prospects was reflected by the largest delegation from this area to date. The Greater Birmingham delegation comprised some 70 delegates from 33 partner organisations, including representatives from Solihull and Black Country local authorities. We had a back-to-back programme consisting of promotional events and investor discussions, with 12 presentations taking place on the Greater Birmingham stand.

We also joined forces with Greater London and Coventry at two further events, setting out the benefits of the new HS2 high speed rail network to both the region’s and the UK’s economic prosperity and connectivity. Speakers included: our own Leader, Sir Albert Bore; Sir Michael Bear, Chairman of UKTI’s Regeneration Investment Organisation; Sir Edward Lister, Deputy Mayor of London; and Andy Street, Chair of the Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP and Managing Director of John Lewis.

Our presence at MIPIM comes at a time when Birmingham and the wider region is enjoying one of our strongest and most productive periods of economic growth in recent history. The city is leading the country in terms of exports, and it is attracting more foreign direct investment and creating more start-ups than any other centre outside London. In fact, more people than ever before are leaving the capital and choosing to locate in Birmingham. It’s perhaps not surprising then that a recent PwC report placed Birmingham ahead of London – and, most encouragingly – 6th in Europe in terms of its real estate investment prospects.

So the timing was right for us to bring forward for consideration by international investors, developers and property specialists further plans to redevelop the city, making every effort to bolster our highly promising growth prospects.

We were able to showcase real delivery on the ground with commercial development schemes now well underway at Snowhill, Paradise and Arena Central. And it now looks very likely that we will be welcoming new occupiers to these ‘Grade A’ buildings sooner than some had predicted. We also launched a new Housing Prospectus for the city. Birmingham’s population will increase by 150,000 by 2031 so we needed to target developers to meet the target of 80,000 new homes, having identified some 40 major brown field sites for investment across the city.

Perhaps the highlight of the week for me, however, was the interest that the launch of “Birmingham Smithfield” created. The vision to redevelop land around the site of the current wholesale markets has the prospect of delivering over 100,000 sq. metres of floor space, 1,000 new homes and 3,000 new jobs, adding £470 million GVA to the local economy and attracting millions more visitors to the city and city region. Importantly, the vision for this development focuses on retaining the rich character and heritage of the area and the communities that occupy it. I was hugely encouraged to see the high level of investor interest in this scheme.

Notwithstanding the Smithfield buzz, the attention that High Speed 2 is attracting to the city should not be underestimated. There continues to be significant interest in our Curzon master plan and I was delighted with the enthusiastic response we received to the announcement of the experienced and highly regarded Liz Peace as Chair of the new Urban Regeneration Company for Curzon. The plans for UK Central in Solihull also attracted a great deal of interest and it’s clear that the property market is excited by the regeneration and investment opportunities that this new rail infrastructure is already bringing to the region.

This year’s MIPIM also gave us the opportunity to showcase some of the new real estate opportunities emerging outside of our city centre. Life Sciences, for example, is certainly a sector where we, as a region, have hidden our light under a bushel for too long. So, it was great to see the response from developers and investors to our plans for a new Life Sciences Campus. I sense that this will be an area of our economy which will provide a wide range of new job opportunities for our people, across a number of different disciplines, in the years ahead.

So, all in all, I think the Greater Birmingham programme of events was a great success. Our strength lies in our growing partnerships, both public and private. The range, scale and diversity of investment interest we are now enjoying, and the fact that the world is now, at last, beginning to view Birmingham as a destination of first choice, are all important factors in ensuring our economy continues to grow.

If you are interested in following up on some of the detail, the various announcements from Greater Birmingham partners which attracted a huge amount of positive attention can be found via the links below:

As a city we still have many challenges ahead of us, but we should not forget that Birmingham and our region are changing and people are noticing. This week I witnessed many places doing the best for their businesses and their people. But very few of them had all of the assets we have or, indeed, the momentum we are now enjoying. I sense a growing confidence in our future which will, day by day, week by week, allow us to meet our own challenges head on and, working together, make sure this place continues to be somewhere that we can all be proud of.

In the words of this week’s Birmingham Mail – Birmingham is certainly bouncing back!

Mark

This Boy Can Wait

Old Tige

So, I’m one year in to my no longer new job.

In my very first blog I wrote “Birmingham has completely grabbed my attention and is definitely going to give me all the new horizons I need (and much, much more) for a very long time”. How true that’s turned out to be!

The 3rd March 2014 is, however, now a pretty vague memory for me. I know my diary tells me what I did on that day, but I don’t actually have a clear recollection of it in my head. What has endured, however, is an emotion – my excitement at being here. I am still asked almost daily if I am enjoying my job – with a frequently implied presumption that to say ‘yes’ would be a sign of delusional behaviour. But the answer is yes. Why? Because of the opportunities, the challenges, the stimulation and, it had to be said, the occasional madness that come from working in an organisation and a city where something new and/or important happens everyday.

Many years ago (I sound like I’m in my rocking chair already) the Dean of the college I attended told me that, when reading my (history) essays, he was left with the impression of a writer with a grasshopper brain. Now, with all the conceit of youth, overlaid with the revisionist tendencies of the middle aged man, I took this – and still take this – as the compliment it was never intended to be.

Harry Pitt (the Dean) was trying to tell me to get some focus (although some of my alleged friends uncharitably thought he was literally referring so the size of my brain). At the time, I’m sure he had a point – clarity and precision were qualities well worth developing, especially when you only had 1500 words at your disposal.

But, I also held then, and still hold now, to a different – or, more accurately – to an additional view. I think curiosity is one of the most under-rated of human qualities and it should be encouraged at all times. Certainly when I was still teaching, the imperative of developing and encouraging children’s spirit of enquiry was at the top of my list of imperatives. Stuff attainment targets; “why does a spider have eight legs sir?”.

Therefore, I contend that my undergraduate scribblings were simply trying to express the wealth and value of the many, varied and exciting ideas contained within the dusty tomes of the University’s libraries.

And this has particular relevance now, I suggest, as the uncertain times we are in require us to be more inquisitive than ever about the ideas that will be needed to shape the future council – and the future of our great city. Old orthodoxies are just that; old and orthodox. Now, as then, I want to be in an environment where imagination is nurtured and encouraged; where we generate all the thoughts that will be needed to ensure that we continue make a positive difference everyday to people’s lives in a rapidly changing world.

Long live those with grasshopper brains.

Me, Myself, I

My first blog wasn’t all about work though. I wanted to convey some sense of me, the person – not solely the persona of the chief executive. Well, quite a number of you have now come across me and will be making up your own minds – indeed, you may have already made them up.

For my part, I hope that I have successfully explained that my primary interest is to lead a life – private and public – that is underpinned by a clear set of positive values. I want to work in an organisation and in a city where there is a culture of empathy, respect and trust. I believe deeply in the value of forming and sustaining partnerships that are founded on positive relationships. I want to work with good people who want to do good – or create and support the conditions for good to be done by others.

But values are delicate things. They need to nourished, cherished and protected. They need to be backed up by deeds that demonstrate the values in action. This is the kind of organisation we must strive for every day. I don’t believe that we are as off track as some would believe, but we are definitely not fully on course (and message) either – and our mission must be to build a greater alignment of values, along with common purpose, citizen-centred outcomes and maximum impact.

So 2015 needs to be the year that we renew our vows to serve our citizens to the very best of our abilities, whilst also tackling some serious internal challenges of our own – and all within a framework of being clear about what we stand for.

Baby, Baby

2015 for me, though, will bring other changes and responsibilities. As you know, Kate and I already have one granddaughter (Charlotte) who, just to keep the story up to date for you, started High School in January. Where does the time go?

But change rarely comes in ones, and so it has come to pass (we didn’t ask for the details) Charlotte is to acquire a cousin. Our youngest son and daughter-in-law are expecting a baby boy in May (we think that they tried to order a fully formed toddler but were informed that, when it comes to children, you have to start at the beginning).

We are, predictably, very excited. We also now have a front room slowly (actually, on closer inspection, not so slowly) filling up with all kinds of stuff. This is, of course, normal. Prospective grandparents usually go on some kind of extended shopping spree to ensure the new arrival is fully catered for. This child, however, will be enjoying a change of clothes every five minutes if we’re not careful.

So, much to look forward to. Of course, the only slight worry is the due date, which is perilously close to the elections. As well as some 40 councillors and 10 MPs due to be declared shortly after close of poll on 7 May, I may well be making a further announcement!

Bright Lights, Big City

And so to another fascinating year ahead. I’m not daunted; but I do know we have a lot on our collective plate. But, if we know what we stand for and stick together, then I know that this will be a twelve months that we look back on with pride, love and affection.

Cheers

Mark