Irrespective of the flavour of the next administration, we know the government always gets in.
So what will I be doing as an antidote to the inevitable Westminster-style Groundhog Day?
In Birmingham, we’ll focus on the advice we’ve been given over the past 18 months, plus our own ideas, to create an ambitious yet realistic medium-term strategy that reinvigorates the council and informs changes to the wider public, private, voluntary and community sectors.
I’ll ensure there is full recognition that, although the council is on a challenging journey of improvement, Birmingham and the region are experiencing an educational, economic and cultural renaissance that deserves wider celebration.
My focus won’t be entirely Birmingham-centric. We’re putting a great deal of effort into co-creating a multi-council growth alliance which will deliver more jobs and more gross value added (GVA) in the region than councils could by working alone. Only through this will we make the most of enterprise zones, airport runway extension, Jaguar Land Rover expansion and HS2.
City/county deals are not just about making the most of economic synergies. The challenge is to close the gap between local public spend and the tax return to the Treasury. I need to throw myself at the challenge of cross-border, total place public service reform.
This is where chief executives must think about devolution. The door has opened to a radical future in which groups of councils can negotiate for control of a range of policy-making and revenue-raising powers.
Take children’s services. Over the next five years, councils must free themselves from the constraints of the 2004 Children Act which limits councils’ decision making about accountabilities and services. It constrains innovation and encourages a system of inspection that drives greater risk aversion and increased cost. I am keen for a devolved settlement that allows for radical local service innovation.
I’ll need to pay plenty of attention to reputation too. Last year had its share of horror stories and Birmingham was in the limelight. This year is challenging for others, not least as more councils find it difficult to maintain standards in their children’s services while child sexual exploitation takes centre stage.
So, I need to think about how I lead. I’ve spent a good part of my first year at Birmingham in conversation within the organisation about values-based leadership and about having clear vision, purpose and outcomes. These things determine the way we interact with citizens.
Meanwhile, the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives & Senior Managers is drawing up a code of ethics for its members, setting out exactly what ‘good’ looks like. By engaging other complementary bodies, we will draw up something relevant to all public services.
While we wait for the democratic worm to turn, we have the opportunity to work out how we come out of these elections with renewed clarity, conviction and ambition.
Mark Rogers, chief executive, Birmingham City Council, and president, Solace