Birmingham City Council’s corporate managerial leadership team did not “fully grip and co-ordinate” vital work on transformation and financial sustainability, the city’s independent improvement panel has said.
In a letter to communities secretary Sajid Javid - issued only four days after the panel was implicated in the departure of chief executive Mark Rogers – the panel said Birmingham needed “bold, focused, suitably experienced and tenacious managerial leadership” to make the changes needed to put it back on a sustainable financial footing.
The letter said: “Yet such managerial leadership has not been consistently evident.”
The panel was set up by the government in January 2015 to oversee reforms recommended by Lord Kerslake’s review of the council.
The panel told Mr Javid that flawed planning and insufficient delivery led to “a very substantial overspend” in 2016-17. The panel noted council reports had described “considerable savings deliverability issues in 2016-17”.
It said this left Birmingham “facing a mammoth task to prepare a balanced budget for 2017-18”.
Achieving this would force Birmingham to use £104m of reserves between 2015-16 and 2018-19, against a previously planned £41m.
The council’s future operating model is intended to deliver annual savings of £45m. A “major element of this is the integration and streamlining of the council’s support services”, the letter said. Yet the plan “was not fully implemented” by March 2016 as had been planned.
While there had been “some very recent enhancements” in the way savings delivery is monitored, the panel said: “There has also been, overall, disappointingly slow progress in addressing many of the most important Kerslake recommendations relating to the council’s culture, capacity and capability.
“Yet implementing these recommendations in timely, persistent and resilient ways always was, and remains, crucial to achieving improved performance and financial sustainability.”
Following the announcement that Mr Rogers is to leave the city council, the letter said: “A number of forthcoming changes to the corporate leadership team bring the risk of a ‘reset button’ being pressed once again which could lead to further delays in achieving effective managerial leadership team-working.”
Leader John Clancy (Lab), who is understood to have been on holiday when Mr Rogers’ departure became public, told staff in an email, which LGC has obtained a copy of, that Mr Rogers was “currently on annual leave” with strategic director change and support services Angela Probert covering his role.
Cllr Clancy’s email listed a further five senior officers, three of whom have ‘acting’ in their title.
They are: Piali DasGupta, assistant chief executive; Waheed Nazir, acting strategic director economy; Jacqui Kennedy, acting strategic director place; Peter Hay, strategic director people; Steve Powell, acting chief financial officer whilst Jon Warlow is “on leave”. LGC previously reported how Mr Hay is due to retire in July and will be standing down from his current role at the end of March.
In a separate response to the panel, Cllr Clancy said: “The panel is right to conclude that lessons in relation to delivery of the 2016-17 city council budget have been learned, and that there is a ‘strong determination from the leader and cabinet’ to provide the political support needed to deliver fully our latest financial plans.”
Birmingham’s lord mayor Clive Rice (Lab) has refused to allow an emergency council meeting about the chief executive position but has said this could be discussed at a regular meeting due on Tuesday.