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”!