Monthly Archives: February 2016

Introducing Paul Dransfield

This is my first ever attempt at a blog.  Depending on how it goes it may be my last!

I am Paul Dransfield. I’ve been at Birmingham City Council since 2007, starting as the Council’s Finance Director under the title of Strategic Director of Resources which also extended into managing a number of corporate services and latterly being Deputy Chief Executive which included a managerial role over the Council’s economic function.

During that time I have had an interest in the delivery of major projects and have had the pleasure and sometimes the pain of being involved in some really big projects.

I have recently taken up a role which involves working on major projects full time. Birmingham, and more widely the West Midlands Region has a series of big projects to deliver and we felt it was time to have a more dedicated role working on those rather than having to do them on top of the day job, either badly or where the day job suffers.

Ironically, that opportunity for me has been made even more pleasing that it has created opportunities for others. I am particularly pleased that both Jon Warlow and Waheed Nazir have been given a place in the Corporate Management Team. Both worked with and for me, although often I felt I worked for them! There is no greater feeling than to see your own staff move alongside and even overtake you in my view. I am taking great pleasure from that.

I am also really pleased to see my change in role provide an opportunity for us to recruit Angela Probert as the Strategic Director for Change from nearby Nottingham Council. She has only been here a few weeks but I can see the difference she is making in the management team, she brings a really positive outlook on things. I am hoping she will be able to sort out all the corporate niggles people have that I didn’t quite achieve.

What this does mean for me is that I have to sing for my supper. The budget for my salary has gone towards funding the above posts and others across the organisation so I now have to earn my salary through the work I do across a number of projects. This means the projects are going to have to need my skills and often I am going to have to deliver efficiencies in the projects to fund my costs.

Another part of being a Programme and Project Director is that I am not intending to build an empire of people working for me in a traditional hierarchical way. I aim to gather expertise from around the Council, from other Councils and partners to work with me on the key projects. I will however, retain the line management of our Property Services Director, Peter Jones, whose team will also have a significant role in major programmes and project delivery.

So what do I think I will be doing over the next months or years?

My initial work programme looks something like this….

  • Delivery Director for the £4.4bn HS2 Growth Strategy Programme over the next 10 years which will see the Curzon Street and Digbeth area transformed, create a new business, entertainment and living area around the Solihull Interchange Station, transform the East of Birmingham through a new metro link and improve transport connectivity across the West Midlands.
  • Continuing to work as a Senior Director for the £600m Paradise Circus redevelopment scheme which is underway.
  • Completing the New Street Gateway Project where I chaired the Project Board for 7 years!
  • Managing the relocation of the Wholesale Markets and then delivering the transformation of the Smithfield area into a new exciting quarter for the City focussed on family leisure and entertainment.
  • Deliver a new Life Sciences campus in Selly Oak.
  • Support the Library of Birmingham to have a sustainable future, starting off with the relocation of the Brasshouse Language Centre into the library.
  • Supporting a new sustainable approach to funding culture and the arts.
  • Continuing as a Director of Birmingham Airport to make sure the airport continues to grow and be a key part to the City and the Regions’ economy.
  • Act as a Director on the Board of a joint venture with the Canals and Rivers Trust to deliver a large scale housing and regeneration project at Icknield Port Loop.
  • Oversee the coordination of a significant programme of Public Realm works in the City Centre.
  • And of course whatever else my chief executive asks me to do!

One thing I do want to point out is that whilst a lot of the projects are exciting and lead to shiny new buildings which are transforming the skyline of the city, that isn’t what they are about to me. These projects are about creating sustainable economic growth and jobs which then directly leads to Birmingham and the wider region being more economically successful. This in turn creates opportunities for all our citizens to prosper and ultimately reduces their call on public expenditure.

Good blogs I am led to believe should have some pictures to break up the words. I have provided the pictures and if they are there I hope you enjoy them, if they are not then I’ve bust the memory limit! Somebody says I need to set up a Pinterest account to post all the photos. I would if I knew what it was!

My final words are to thank all the people that I have had the pleasure of working with in my previous role and to reassure those who might think I might not play my full strategic role in the Corporate Management Team going forward, I will be! I don’t know where to charge my time for that to yet though! Better go and ask the Finance Director!

Introducing Jon Warlow

When I joined Birmingham as an interim in 2008 I clearly did not plan on being at the Council beyond the short term.  As many colleagues have also experienced, the challenge (and excitement!) of working at Birmingham City Council led to me successfully applying for the Director of Corporate Finance post in 2009 and similarly for my current position, Strategic Director – Finance & Legal from the start of 2016.

For me, what makes me want to go to work is to be able to make a difference and make things happen – I know I share this with colleagues and Birmingham provides (in my opinion) the biggest and best opportunity in local government  to do this.

The reduction in central government grant funding over the last five years has affected Birmingham far more than most Councils, and  it has been extremely testing time us.  As you know, these funding reductions are forecast to continue on to 2019/20 and it is a considerable achievement for us to be putting forward a Business Plan 2016+ which includes service and financial plans to take us through to what we project to be a financially sustainable  Future Council 2020.  This is going to require a complex, managed transition from where we are now – already a much changed organisation – to the Future Council we are working to define.  I will be working with Members, Mark Rogers, Angela Probert and with other CLT colleagues to help deliver this. While we have much experience in managing a large savings agenda, the initiatives required over the next few years are more of a transformational nature and will require greater management and commitment than ever before. So its going to be about delivery, delivery, delivery and a strong emphasis on accountability and responsibility.

In saying this, I very much recognise that the Council’s plans involve substantial further reductions in the number of employees – unfortunately unavoidable due to reducing budgets – and I and my colleagues in Finance & Legal will be working very closely with Angela and HR to ensure that this is achieved  in the most acceptable way. The  Legal Services Department since Christmas has been led by Kat Charlton and Stuart Evans as joint Acting City Solicitors and it is great to see the confidence that they are demonstrating in this role.

These employee reductions will be felt across the Council and of course include support services, and this is element is being overseen  via the Integrated Support Services (ISS) programme  which is jointly chaired by Angela and myself. This is looking to ensure that the impact of support services staffing reductions on departments and services is mitigated, as best as we can, by process  simplification,  investment in systems such as work flow, better joined up working  and increasing managers self-reliance.

Apart from the money, we have also had to wrestle with the improvement challenges laid out in the Kerslake report, the other reports of external inspectors and the Government Improvement Panel. While we are not  at the end of these journeys yet, I think we should be proud of the positive and not defensive way that we have responded. Under Mark Roger’s leadership and with a number of new senior officers at the top of the organisation I definitely feel the “new broom effect”, and a different culture starting to take root. I have always thought that as  a Council we achieve a phenomenal amount. You only have to look at our Cabinet and other agendas, or look at what is physically going on around us in the development of the City, to see evidence of this. We are now improving the speed of decision making and change, and are finding new ways of working with communities and partners. This ranges from the work of members on how they  engage differently  with local communities and their  leaders,  to the creation of a new West Midlands Combined Authority with a planned programme of £8bn! Lots going as you would expect from an organisation whose motto is “Forward”!

Policy Bites: Devolution: Evolution or Revolution?

UK RegionsOn 28 January the Cities and Local Government Devolution Act received Royal Assent, marking an important step forward in our very British process of devolution. We in the West Midlands will now use it to create our Combined Authority and implement the proposed devolution deal we signed last November.

It’s worth remembering that Britain is one of the most centralised countries in Europe (second only to Albania according to some), but the process of putting that right is clearly going to be more of an evolution than a revolution. Not for us the sweeping introduction of new structures of local government across the board seen in France or the neat federal constitution of Germany.

Instead, the Act is what those in Whitehall call an “enabling measure”. It allows the Secretary of State to devolve any function to any local area and to create combined authorities and new “metro mayors” with additional powers. But it does not define what these powers should be, nor the geographical areas that will receive them. It does not make devolution happen. It is a form of legislation designed to support what might be seen as a peculiarly English approach to policy making: the agreement of deals between the government and local areas.

Nonetheless, in theory, this should give us the freedom to develop our own approach to devolution and allow local government as a whole to drive the agenda.  We said that the first West Midlands deal would open the door to an ongoing dialogue and that has, indeed, proved to be the case. The Government is already talking to us about further deals and we expect some announcements in the March Budget and the Autumn Statement later in the year.

But in reality the devolution deals agreed so far have tended to look fairly similar and there are some fairly strong walls around the places that government will not let us go at the moment. That is the downside of an enabling approach – it does appear to leave the government very much in the driving seat and determining the pace and direction of change, with local areas appearing to be as much reactive as proactive as they jump when asked for new ideas and engaging in a glorified bidding process. As one of our Combined Authority Chief Executives regularly puts it, we are like kittens chasing a flashing light … so we need to get more control of the torch.

What we need is a fully worked through strategic approach to devolution looking ahead to 2020 and well beyond. In the West Midlands, therefore, we have set up a devolution strategy group to enable us to plan future deals and to lobby more effectively for a more radical approach from the government. We aim to develop a West Midlands model of devolution, not follow a standard blueprint.

Whilst taking a much more long-term approach, we must also look now at how combined authorities and mayors can engage more effectively with local communities and how we can link together the different levels of city governance and the two themes of public service reform and economic growth. We can also develop a distinct approach through our work across the three Local Enterprise Partnerships.

Birmingham can play a big part in developing this new model, not least in our thinking on the very local level, with the forthcoming changes to our wards and the potential for many more neighbourhood councils following the creation of the Sutton Coldfield Town Council. Who knows, but this might see us developing local devolution agreements with neighbourhoods within Birmingham.

But the biggest wall we need to break down is the one around the whole agenda of “fiscal devolution”. To put it bluntly, there can be no real devolution without true local control of taxation and more freedom on how public money can be spent. Tax set at a sub-national level in the UK is equivalent to just 2.5% of GDP, compared with 15.9% in Sweden, 10.9% in Germany and 5.8% in France.

Even with the re-localisation of all business rates from 2020 we will not have control over the level of rates and we will still not be free to set the council tax rate, to adjust the bands to suit local needs, or to levy a Supplementary Business Rate above 2%. We also need to look at other areas of taxation taken for granted in other countries, such as hotel taxes, and explore the options for localising other taxes such as Stamp Duty or Vehicle Excise Duty. And we need greater freedoms to use these sources of income to borrow and invest.

The devolution debate so far has concerned the localisation of functions.  Opening up the fiscal devolution box would support a strategy that gives us genuine freedom to design local investment programmes and local public services to better meet the needs of local people and local businesses.

During the year ahead the Government is seeking to engage with local government about how the post 2020 system will work.  We must make sure that debate is not just a narrow discussion of business rates, tariffs, top ups and incentives for house building.  We must insist that the finance system supports a vision for real devolution – a revolution not an evolution. And we must make sure that Birmingham and the West Midlands play a leading role in that debate.