Monthly Archives: November 2015

Entering another significant few weeks



A significant few weeks ahead of us (again).

This evening (Monday, 23rd November) the Labour Group chooses a new leader. And a week tomorrow (Tuesday, 1st December) a new Leader of the Council will be elected.

Then, on 7th December we publish our “one year on” progress update, reporting on the delivery of the recommendations made in Lord Kerslake’s 2014 review of corporate governance. And exactly a week later (14th December) there will be the final public meeting of 2015 with the Birmingham Independent Improvement Panel.

As if all this wasn’t enough, the administration will be publishing its 2016-18 budget proposals for formal consultation during this period – in all probability on the 9th December.

Adeste Fideles

There has already been a budget ‘warm up’ with a series of community workshops focused on engaging local people in considering questions such as ‘what kind of council should we become by 2020’ and ‘what do we need to do to get there’ – topics you will be more than familiar with. The outcomes of this engagement will be made available shortly.

To coincide with the publication of the 2016-18 budget proposals, the Future Council team has been planning formal internal consultation sessions with staff and trades unions – and these will be commencing soon. We will also be running a set of external events tailored for those in the voluntary, community and business sectors, along with our other public service partners. For me, all this activity kicks off with a Managers’ Voice session on 25th November, and I’ll be involved in much more. So, come along and have a further say in how we plan for the future.


As we career our way towards the end of 2015, it’s a good time (believe me, it is) to think about (y)our work-related resolutions for the year ahead. We are still in a tough place as a council, albeit we are moving forward on a number of fronts.

Children’s safeguarding is improving, but we’re only half way through a really challenging improvement plan and there is plenty still to do to leave special measures behind us. However, I believe that we now have the platform, the people and the plan. We must execute the latter to perfection.

Education is also going in the right direction – and somewhat faster. We have just been the subject of a peer challenge delivered by the Local Government Association and the findings will be published in full in the New Year. For now, I can tell you that there are plenty of positives and those areas that need more attention are already identified, understood and being addressed or planned for. There is no reason to believe that we can’t satisfy the requirements of our Improvement Notice and, by association, our Commissioner by the deadline of Easter 2016.

The Future Council Programme, which incorporates the Kerlake recommendations, is also progressing. The key to making further substantial and ‘game changing’ (sorry!) progress is to dispel any remaining concerns that the Birmingham Independent Improvement Panel and Government have about our commitment to change, especially of the cultural variety. And that means you and me signing up and delivering. Whilst it is our elected members who have mainly been in the spotlight of late, I know – and I think you know too – that we must also play our part. We have to lead everyday now with our values and behaviours on full view and deployed consistently and convincingly.

To this end, I am about to put my team through its paces. At the end of this month we have an important development session, revisiting our 360s with an external adviser (here’s mine again: I’ll be asking my strategic director colleagues to reflect honestly with me on what we still need to do to ensure that we are, and are seen as, roles models for the rest of the organisation.


And lest all this serious talk comes across as a little one-sided, let’s recall some highlights from the week just gone.

On Tuesday (17th November) the incoming West Midlands Combined Authority did the biggest devolution deal so far with Government. Birmingham played its part in securing a total investment in jobs and growth over the next 10 years of around £8bn, with up to £2bn of new resources to be factored into the overall economic plan, the centrepiece of which is HS2. You can find out more about the deal here:

And on Thursday (19th November) the Queen officially opened the totally revamped New Street Station. This, and the Grand Central Shopping Centre above, wouldn’t have been possible without the leadership of members and officers at the council working strongly and effectively with partners – and we should all be very proud of what’s been achieved. Birmingham now has a gateway station to rival the best – and we played our part in enhancing this great city’s reputation (a number of papers lauded us, unprompted, as the second city).

Oh, and of course, the absolutely brilliant Birmingham City Council choir sang for Her Majesty. Icing on the cake.



Facing up to the post Paris challenges

Image via Twitter from Charlotte Marshall

As I write this, Europe and the wider world is trying to come to terms with the Paris tragedy. I cannot yet digest either what has happened or why. Initially, all that I could do was join with millions of others and express my sympathy for, and solidarity with the French. Like villages, towns and cities across the planet, Birmingham lit up its buildings in red, white and blue, held vigils and observed the Europe-wide minute of silence. #ViveLaParis went viral and rightly so.

Expressing concern and grief for the bereaved and injured are, of course, natural human emotions.

But so are anger and the desire for retribution. And almost as soon as the outpourings of compassion were expressed, so were the calls for revenge heard. These are feelings and intentions that are easy to understand, but difficult to reconcile.

So, against a complex to backdrop of international terrorism, where does the local authority role fit into all of this? We don’t make foreign policy. We don’t provide intelligence or counter-terrorism services (although we do work with those who do, of course). We don’t even run the school’s anymore (but we did give them some clear and well regarded advice).

Notwithstanding this, it is clear to me that, as the appointed civic leaders, it must be our job to support and complement our elected leadership in using its community leadership role to provide information, advice, guidance and – above all – reassurance to all our citizens that the actions of a few must not diminish or unduly change the rest of us. Additionally, we can do something that central government can’t easily replicate; reach out and reach in to every street, neighbourhood and community of our places; engage people in trying to understand and respond constructively to these troubling events; and work harder to comprehend and accept each other better.

For me, what’s happened in Paris creates an agenda for the whole of my city – for terrorism of the kind we have just seen is a threat to everyone. And, I am a little fearful presently, so we must act with alacrity. Many urban areas in the UK, Birmingham included, are struggling to manage and mitigate a rhetoric that can too easily conflate the actions of a terrible few with the benign culture/faith/values of the many. This is most acute at present with the adherents of Islam – but there are many other examples.

Therefore, in working to secure and build the cohesion of our communities, we have to challenge simplistic type-casting lest this, itself, becomes a further reason for grievance and jealousy amongst a wider body of hitherto upstanding citizens.

So, as we move forward from the terrible events of 13/11, councils across the land will be mobilising to bring the civic and the civil together to address openly and honestly what it is that we need to do to ensue that peace and love defeat hate and war every time.

The challenge has changed and so must we

I won’t win any prizes for insight when I say that the local government landscape has changed dramatically over the last five years. It’s also an understatement to say that this has been a time of unprecedented change.

But, while it’s true that there’s less money and that demand and expectations are increasing, the conversations in 2015 need to be very different to the ones we had last year, let alone five years ago.

This is because the challenge is no longer about simply shrinking the council; our role as councils has dramatically changed over the last five years and the crunch is now coming in which doing everything but on a smaller scale will need to be replaced by doing things completely differently and, in a number of instances, not doing them at all.

This is a tough message, but the sooner we all understand it, the better. Irrevocable and seismic change is imminent.

In some cases this new thinking and new approach will mean new people and, that’s why as part of Birmingham’s Future Council programme, we’re recruiting to a number of senior roles.

We recently announced the appointment of Angela Probert as Strategic Director for Change and Corporate Services and Piali DasGupta as the new Assistant Chief Executive.

Now two roles, Director of HR and Assistant Director – Organisation Development, are being filled as part of the ongoing response to last year’s Kerslake report, which highlighted a number of areas of workforce improvement for the council to make.

These new people join us at a crucial period in the ongoing evolution of local government.

Collectively our capacity has dramatically shrunk, but the demand has not. Indeed in many ways the demands are growing year on year thanks to welfare reforms and an ever-ageing population.

So our challenge now is to work more closely with partners, community groups and residents. We’re going to have to find together new ways of delivering services, developing new relationships and overcoming whatever barriers may have existed in the past.

In Birmingham the approach we’re taking is badged-up as the Future Council programme Elsewhere the title will be different but the challenge remains the same.

  • Councils have less money to spend, meaning it is now impossible to do everything we did in the past.
  • But demand has not gone away.
  • So we have to do things differently and that means working much more closely with partners, our communities and individuals to manage demand and redesign services.

It’s very easy to talk about these things with buzz words and slogans but the three points above give a decent summary of the position and the task that faces colleagues, existing and new.

As a council, our workforce is our strongest asset – so it is vital we ensure the expertise and leadership is in place to develop employees and the way in which we operate as an organisation.

By filling these posts we will ensure this is the case. The challenge to shape the Future Council in the coming years is huge, and the successful recruits will play key roles in modernising how we do business.