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Review reveals 'dysfunctional' relationships in Birmingham

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Birmingham City Council has said there are no legal grounds for taking criminal or civil action after an independent review found former leader John Clancy (Lab) acted unlawfully when he independently reached an agreement to end the city’s long-running bin strike.

The report, published just before Christmas, concludes that Cllr Clancy had no legal or constitutional rights to agree through arbitration service Acas to abandon a plan previously agreed by cabinet to make 113 refuse workers redundant as part of a shake-up of the city’s waste management services.

Cllr Clancy’s bid to end the strike in 2017, the report said, failed to follow the required processes and a subsequent “informal” cabinet meeting, during which the agreement had been said to be ratified, did not have the authority to make such a decision.

It added Cllr Clancy had also attempted to “work around” then interim chief executive Stella Manzie in a bid to get an employee who had been suspended over the dispute reinstated by instructing “relatively” junior staff to do so.

Responding to the report on Twitter last month, Cllr Clancy described it as “a whitewash designed to cover the backs of senior officers who behaved appallingly”, insisting he acted “appropriately and with full legal powers” throughout the dispute.

The review, by consultant Mark Heath, recommends that Birmingham, which has been subject to oversight by a government appointed improvement panel since 2014, should consider whether misconduct or malfeasance in public office had been committed.

In response to the recommendations Birmingham said: “The council has considered the findings of the review and obtained advice from an independent QC on any potential civil or criminal proceedings. They have advised there is no merit in either being pursued.

“However, the matter has been referred to the independent chair of the council’s standards committee for them to consider and decide if any further action is necessary.”

The report described both the council’s cabinet and senior management team at the time as dysfunctional. Cabinet meetings were said to have been rarely attended by all members and information was not adequately shared.

The report adds that members were “played off against each other” by Cllr Clancy and did not challenge his agreement with Acas “as might be expected”.

Mr Heath also said highest-level officers did not have a culture of “collective responsibility and trust”.

This, the report added, had contributed to an ineffective “member/officer interface” although senior officers “had tried to make it work”.

Concerns among officers about the failure to maintain confidentiality led to limited briefings to members, resulting in not all decision makers always understanding “the facts, risks or implications of their decisions”, the report said.

Cllr Clancy resigned as leader in September 2017 and the bin dispute ended the following November when Birmingham withdrew the redundancy notices days before a High Court challenge.

Cllr Clancy last month described the findings of the review, which he did not cooperate with, as “utter nonsense from start to finish” and accused officers of frustrating efforts to end the dispute.

In a statement, he added the council had been forced to “cave in” and implement his agreement as it was clear the High Court judge was set to rule that he, as council leader, had been “fully empowered to act to settle this dispute in the way I had”.

Cllr Clancy has pledged to publish his own report shortly which he says will show how senior officers “brazenly worked to prevent the democratic will”.

He also accused the improvement panel of failing to take a critical view of officers’ actions and the then Department of Communities and Local Government of being too receptive to the interim chief executive’s version of events.

Responding to the report, Birmingham’s deputy monitoring officer Rober Connelly said: “We are absolutely committed to learning from what happened during the summer of 2017 and we have already put a range of measures in place to make our governance and decision making more robust.”

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