Birmingham children’s services will overcome ‘a decade of failure’ and be transformed over the next 12 months, the city council’s new chief executive has pledged.
Six weeks into the new job, Mark Rogers says that the service, which has persistently under-performed at huge cost to children in the city, is set to turn the corner.
One of the reasons Mr Rogers was handed the £180,000-a-year job at the head of Britain’s largest local authority was his background in children’s services – he was formerly director of children’s services in Solihull and is regarded as a national authority on the subject.
But he has joined Birmingham at a time when the service is again under the spotlight as it awaits the arrival of the Department for Education appointed commissioner Lord Warner to get it back on track.
Birmingham’s child protection record has been a poor one which has been highlighted in a series of serious case reviews into the deaths of youngsters like Khyra Ishaq and Keanu Williams, as well as a long standing ‘inadequate’ rating from Ofsted.
Mr Rogers said: “The analysis says that we have at least ten years’ worth of failure across all administrations. The next 12 months with Lord Warner coming on the scene is where we have to significantly get safeguarding in a better place.
“This time next year I expect us to be in that different place, and that doesn’t mean an all singing all dancing, but what it does mean is that we have put failure behind us. And there will be the confidence that we are going to motor with this one.”
He said he brings his vast experience in children’s service to the job, after his early career as a special needs teacher rising through local government.
“Without being terribly conceited, I am a chief executive who both gets the children’s stuff and understands what improving it actually looks like.
“If we overlay that with Peter Hay’s obvious ability in this area, you get two people at the top of the shop on the officers side who know what they’re doing.” His view is simple: “Have a single plan, make sure it’s a good one and get on with it.”
He adds pointedly that there must be consistency at the top after years of ‘chopping and changing’ of both political and officer leadership.
“This council’s had a bit of history of people coming and going, in the top job especially. That needs to stop.”
The role of chief executive was also expanded, upon Mr Rogers’ appointment, to take in responsibility for driving Birmingham economic prosperity – under a restructuring and partial cull of the council’s top tier by leader Sir Albert Bore.
“In the world of chief execs, which I inhabit, Birmingham is the biggest job in the country, don’t believe anyone who says it’s Westminster City Council, it’s here.
“And I was appointed by Sir Albert Bore, and that gives the message there is confidence that we can work together.”
He recognises that the electorate or political groups can change the leader and says he is pleased that a cross-party panel approved his appointment. He said: “The job is to play a complementary role to Sir Albert, getting out there to make Birmingham and Greater Birmingham a place to attract more and more investment.
“It’s got to be good growth. We look at prosperity and fairness, there’s no point having inward investment which doesn’t benefit the local population, we’ve got to have some growth that comes here and provides good quality employment and training for our communities.
“Look at the Curzon Street masterplan, that is about a mixed economy of growth, it’s great to have a brilliant retail offer, but we can have a really modern and forward looking manufacturing base whether its aerospace, motor manufacturing or whatever.”
But a major challenge facing the authority at this present time is the cuts in government grant – with another £150 million reduction next year and two further sizable annual reductions after that.
So far councils have been reacting to the ‘fast moving’ austerity programme he argues, but with some idea of finances until 2018 now is the time to ‘reinvent’ the local authority.
“Where Sir Albert is at and where I am at – we’re saying this is the end of local government as we’ve know it and now we’re designing what the next one is going to be.
“Where Sir Albert is absolutely in the right place, and it’s his doing and not mine, is asking what are the small number of priorities that this council is focused on and that is where the money needs to go. And those priorities are fairness, prosperity and democracy, so we know where we are starting from.”