Birmingham City Council’s political leaders have failed to grasp the scale of required change identified by the Kerslake inquiry into its failings, and have dragged their feet on boosting its senior management.
A mid-year report by the independent improvement panel, installed after Lord Kerslake’s review of the council in the wake of last year’s ‘Trojan Horse’ scandal, also found little progress had been made since an interim report in March.
Lord Kerslake called for “radical improvements” in Birmingham’s strategic leadership, service delivery, economic performance and financial management.
Birmingham Independent Improvement Panel chair John Crabtree said: “It is not yet clear that the senior political leadership of the council fully understands the scale of change required.”
The panel’s report to communities secretary Greg Clark said: “We continue to observe a council where the politicians with most influence are focusing too much on the inner political workings of the authority rather than engaging widely and enthusiastically with external partners and the communities of Birmingham.”
The panel praised the energy and commitment of chief executive Mark Rogers and his team, but said its most serious concerns included slow progress in developing a long-term financial strategy, and in “securing the senior management capability required for the size of the council and the scale of the task”.
Birmingham’s senior management was “extremely stretched”, posing a risk to the improvement plan’s success unless political leaders could “ensure a senior management structure appropriate to England’s largest council”.
Mr Crabtree told LGC a net addition of three senior posts was needed, but these had not been advertised even three months after leader Sir Albert Bore (Lab) gave assurances the issue would be addressed urgently.
However, he recognised the attention of council leadership had been “diverted” by the general election and setting up the [West Midlands] combined authority.
“I think we are about a quarter behind but if good new senior appointments are made I’m confident Birmingham will deliver on all fronts,” he added.
Sir Albert said in a joint response with Mr Rogers: “We accept that the council has taken some time to get out of the starting blocks in a number of areas but we are confident that we are now moving forward at pace and on all fronts.”
There would be “an acceleration of the actions required over the summer”, and they welcomed the panel’s recognition of encouraging progress in member development and responsibilities and changes to committees.
“The leadership of the council is fully committed to this programme of wide-ranging and fundamental change and we are pleased the panel has accepted our reassurance on this and that pace will now increase in order for us to demonstrate significant progress by September,” they said.
A DCLG spokesman said the department had received the report, “and will consider the contents and respond in due course”.