Monthly Archives: January 2016

This intervention is about rehabilitation

Things are on the move in this great city of Birmingham. We are getting better and we’re going to succeed.

For the previous 20 months the city council has been in a kind of lock-down, something it brought on itself by a set of now very well-publicised self-inflicted injuries. As a consequence, we were prescribed the equivalent of an ISSO, with two commissioners and an improvement panel to ensure we were observing a metaphorical curfew and adhering to the other stringent requirements of our rehabilitation.

And, dare I say it, we needed this intensity of external scrutiny – even though it has been a pretty big mental and organisational adjustment for all of us to make, even the relative newcomers like myself. Not being in control of your destiny (or, at least, not being secure in the delusion that you are in control) is, quite frankly, tough. Everyone – individuals and institutions – likes their independence and autonomy and working in an environment in which it is curtailed is hard to swallow. That’s human nature I guess.

But, as values-driven and conscientious public servants with our citizens interests at heart, we have been knuckling down to the business in hand – improvement, improvement, improvement. Sometimes gracefully; sometime less so. I know personally (because I have had to be told on occasion) that I haven’t always found it easy to take advice and have appeared – or even possibly been – ungrateful (ungrateful for me usually being a manifestation of an even more accentuated form of sarcasm).

And therein is one of the dilemmas of being intervened in. Advice abounds on what you need to do, how to do it and how to measure it. And because no-one’s failures or successes are ever really absolute (in local government at least. Although, in life more generally I can actually think of some examples of complete heroes and villains), you get in to the really difficult territory of having to judge whether or not those on the naughty step can put forward, let alone insist on following their own advice. Now, I’m not writing this to provoke – and if you think I am then that’s your interpretation not mine. I’m addressing this because over the last year and a half I have had to think frequently about the extent to which, when views that I or others in the council hold diverge from those mandated to aid and abet our improvement, you keep your own counsel.

I haven’t come up with any right or wrong answers to that question. Instead, I’ve been drawn back time and again to the psychology of how best to secure change that is owned and sustainable. Crime and punishment is the easy bit. If you do the crime you do the time. But, as we all know, rehabilitation is much, much harder. Just as too many persistent offenders do, indeed, persist in offending, so too many organisations slide out of and back into difficulty – something that has not gone unobserved either by our sector or government. And the most important challenge in all of this for me, therefore, is not the naming of our sins, nor the repentance of them. It’s the one of how best to challenge and support the transgressors in a way that the balance of the two leave you in no doubt about the need to do better, but also empowers you to be the agent of sustainable change.

And here in Birmingham it looks like we have reached the stage where addressing that challenge openly and honestly is the key to our future success. We have a panel and commissioner (the education one) who respectively might wave us goodbye in March and July. And, to me at least, the way in which mutually we give each other the confidence and assurance to proceed with those farewells is to ensure that the improvements still to come are owned by those who will be left behind at the city council to make them.

So, it is crucial over the next few weeks that the Leader and his team, me and my team and our panel and commissioners eschew the tendency to focus on a relationship where the teachers just mark the pupil’s homework and, instead and together, we look at how we can embed and sustain the conditions in which future improvements can flourish because of the council’s own commitment and capabilities. On a personal level, and to use a term that the Leader is promoting, I am ready and willing to “step up” to that plate in order to deliver to the citizens of Birmingham what they deserve.

This article first appeared in the Local Government Chronicle on 21 January 2016

Introducing Angela Probert

Happy New Year  – and hello!

Angela ProbertWell, they say things come in threes – for me that’s  a new job, moving to a new city and working with new colleagues. All three are exciting, yet scary at the same time.

We all like comfort, security and ‘the familiar’, but it’s good to put ourselves out there and look at things with a different perspective – through different  eyes and ask if could we do things in a different way  to meet the needs of our internal customers and citizens of Birmingham.    

Being ‘new’ allows me to do this – I can ask ‘why’ and ‘what if’. It’s not being critical, or disrespectful of the hard work that has evidently taken place, but may prompt us to question and challenge the status quo  we all experience when we have too much to do.

Actually, we don’t need a new job to do this, or new colleagues, and at Birmingham City Council we’ve certainly got the talent and ambition. Mark Rogers invited me to the Chamberlain Awards in December and I was humbled and impressed by the passion and ambition demonstrated by staff wanting to deliver better outcomes  for the citizens of Birmingham – even in these challenging times.  

As we get to know each other you will see and hopefully experience my passion for developing future talent. We all have a role as parents, teachers or line managers to recognise and encourage young people to realise their potential. It is not only a good thing to do, but also essential to have a future workforce that reflects the talent and diversity across Birmingham – without this we will not realise the ambitions Cllr Clancy has for Birmingham and the City Council. I’m interested to hear from you how we might do this.

A little about me 

I have worked in, or with Local Government for the majority of my career, most recently with Nottingham City Council as Strategic Director, Organisational Transformation. I have lots of experience to share – and will – but promise I won’t mention ‘them’ too often!

I am married to Andy and have two daughters in their twenties – Emma, who works for a large retail company in London, and Sophie, who is an Intensive Care nurse in Nottingham; both of whom make me very proud!

I relax and maintain my equilibrium by being outside (in all weathers) walking the dog, gardening or trawling round the country with Sophie in her equestrian pursuits (I am in fact the unpaid groom!) I take advantage of having a daughter in London to get my theatre and cultural fix – and am keen to experience what Birmingham has to offer – happy for you to share any suggestions.

So what are my New Years resolutions alongside the ‘eat less’ and ‘do more exercise’?

I will:

  • Work collaboratively with our partners to commission effective and value for money services that meet the needs of our citizens
  • Focus on what will make a difference and stop activity that serves no purpose or that doesn’t support the delivery of outcomes
  • Keep things simple!
  • Work alongside colleagues to deliver the Future Council programme
  • Ensure the future Support Services structure, systems and way of working enable frontline teams to focus on our citizens
  • Live on a daily basis the values and behaviours of a Birmingham leader and empower my teams to develop  a rich and diverse talent

You will have to let me know whether I stick to them!

I’m already getting out and about and have met some excellent and committed Members, staff and partners. I want to get to know Birmingham and the people who make a difference to this great city.

I look forward to meeting your teams and working with you over the next few years.

Contact details


Introducing Jacqui Kennedy

Jacqui Kennedy, Acting Strategic Director for Place wrote: 

Jacqui KennedyI have written loads of blogs but none really about myself and my role so I thought it important to give you a little bit of history about me, Jacqui Kennedy.

I have worked for Birmingham City Council (BCC) since I left school in 1979.  I was 16 and I had applied for jobs at BCC, Barclays Bank and the West Midlands Passenger Transport Executive (my dad was a bus driver).  I was interviewed for all three jobs and on the same day I received offers as office junior for each of the organisations applied to.  

It was a time when young people were embraced by large organisations and these organisations gave you the training and skills to develop you as an individual without the need to go into further education.   This was the post-entry training scheme where non-work ready young people were taken under the wing of the employer and ‘grown’. I chose BCC because it was the nicest letter.  That was the best decision of my young life!

In every role I have had with the City Council I have learned from that first contact.  I always respond to correspondence (including emails and twitter) politely, acknowledging the author personally, and give them what they ask for if I can, and if that is not possible explain to them why not.    

I have also learnt from my first day at work, in 1979.  It is so important to welcome colleagues and induct them appropriately.  I arrived in the office at 8.45am prompt, left to sit with my coat on, not told where the toilets were and not told when I could go to lunch or go home.  My colleagues were just so pleased to have someone to help them clear the backlog.  Although a rocky start some of my colleagues from that first day though remain my lifelong friends.  

I am now honoured to hold the position of Acting Strategic Director (Place), having previously held roles throughout the city council as supervisor, manager and now in a strategic leadership position.  However, I believe in distributive leadership, and I have been determined to act as a leader at every level and we all should!  Leadership is essential at all levels, leaders of ideas, leaders of projects, leaders of teams etc. leadership comes in many guises.   

As a City Council we face an unprecedented financial challenge.  To respond to the challenges we must change culturally and behaviourally as an organisation.  The future council programme and our approach to managing demand, collaborating in partnership, being true to our word is essential to support us to do this and ensure that we make a valid contribution to our city and our citizens.  

As Acting Strategic Director I have leadership responsibility for an eclectic and wide ranging portfolio of services including Fleet and Waste Management, Housing, Highways, Regulatory Services, Bereavement Services, Markets, District Services, Parks, Sports and Events and  Equality, Community Safety and Cohesion.  I also have strategic leadership for the Birmingham City Council hosted Illegal Money Lending Service for England and the Regional Scambusters team.     

What am I going to do to help and what will it say in My Appraisal?

  • I aim to drive down demand by getting it right first time, saying sorry when we don’t and putting it right going forward.  I want to ensure that all of our services get it right first time every time and that we  improve the quality of life of all of our citizens as much as we can.  
  • I want to personally contribute through the services I oversee to make every neighbourhood a sustainable neighbourhood that people want to live in and take pride in.  
  • I want to ensure that where we can we enable people to live independently in these neighbourhoods by improving community safety outcomes for citizens. We can only achieve this by working with our partners: together we can and do make a real and positive difference.      

When I came into post I made three promises;

  1. embed the wheelie bin service for Birmingham and deliver the cleaner streets that the people of Birmingham deserve. This is only achievable in partnership with our residents.  
  2. Working with partners to develop a Comprehensive Housing for Birmingham.  Working with local providers and developing sustainable neighbourhoods for all to live in and be proud of.  This is only achievable in partnership.  
  3. Link our highway infrastructure with the economic development of the city, through connectivity of people to training, development jobs and opportunities to develop their skills.  

I love being a public servant and working to deliver high quality services to our citizens.  I love working every day with amazing people, be they partner colleagues, our politicians, our staff or our citizens who are always offering to help.  

I have a real pride in the city of my birth and I am committed to ensuring that all of our services within the Place Directorate and across the City Council add value and improve the quality of life to our citizens.

Place services are high profile: right in the front line and at the sharp end – personally there is nowhere else I would rather be.  

In the words of John Fitzgerald Kennedy (I was named after his beautiful wife Jacqueline) “Leadership and Learning are indispensable to each other”.  Every day I aim to learn something new!