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UPDATED: Birmingham's structure and size faces Kerslake review

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A change in governance structure that is already being implemented at Birmingham City Council could be rolled out on a wider scale following a major review of the authority in the aftermath of the ‘Trojan Horse’ affair.

Details of an independent review into the operation, culture and corporate governance of the city - Europe’s largest single-tier local authority - were announced on Friday by the Department for Communities & Local Government. The review will be led by the department’s permanent secretary Sir Bob Kerslake and one of the key lines of inquiry is the council’s size and structure.

Chief executive Mark Rogers told LGC that he did not believe Sir Bob would recommend the local authority was split up in to a number of smaller councils.

Mr Rogers said: “It’s not a size question about whether we should divvy [the council] up into four new administrations and do away with the present council but instead how you make a big city council work when it is not working well enough like at the moment.”

The chief executive thought Sir Bob and his team on the advisory panel were likely to take an interest in the “devolved arrangements” that that the council has started to put in place through the work the council is doing with city’s children’s commissioner Lord Warner.

A policy statement unveiled by leader Sir Albert Bore (Lab) in July set out a policy deemed “triple devolution” under which the city’s governance should operate at three levels. Its sub-region would be run as a partnership with other councils and use funding streams passed down from central government. Birmingham would then work more closely with other agencies on city-wide services, with significant powers devolved to 10 districts, while more services would be run at a neighbourhood level.

“We have just started to implement that and I think Sir Bob will look at whether that will work over all of the council,” said Mr Rogers.

This comes after Sir Bob issued a call for evidence for the independent review. The review is due to be completed by the end of the year and will make a series of recommendations on the council’s economic and service delivery capabilities.

Among the lines of inquiry already discussed are:

  • structure and size of the council
  • clarity of strategic leadership and direction
  • managerial capacity to deliver the council’s priorities
  • role of the council in representing the community
  • financial planning and sustainability in the medium and long term
  • performance management and accountability
  • the council’s approach to partnership

In July, education secretary Nicky Morgan announced an independent review would be conducted following the council’s failure to identify and act on concern about some of the schools at the centre of the ‘Trojan Horse’ affair.

Over the next four months, Sir Bob and members of his advisory panel will talk to officers and councillors, as well as key organisations in local government, including the LGA, MPs and other relevant parties.

The advisory panel is made up of:

  • Deborah Cadman, chief executive, Suffolk CC
  • Carolyn Downs, chief executive, LGA
  • Donna Hall, chief executive, Wigan MBC
  • Sir Steve Houghton (Lab), leader, Barnsley MBC
  • Mehboob Khan (Lab), political advisor, London Councils
  • Joanne Roney, chief executive, Wakefield MBC
  • David Simmonds (Con), deputy leader, Hillingdon LBC
  • Howard Sykes (Lib Dem), Oldham MBC

Sir Bob said: “Birmingham is a vibrant, dynamic city of 1.1 million people and Birmingham council is the largest in the UK. Ensuring that everyone shares in the cities [sic] economic prosperity and takes full advantage of all of the opportunities open to them requires strong civic leadership, effective governance and excellent delivery by the council.”

The final report will take into account the findings of recent reviews by Ian Kershaw, Peter Clark, Julian Le Grand and Lord Warner. It will also take into account the experiences and successes of other councils, drawing on the expertise of the panel members.

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