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Is anyone actually running Birmingham City Council?

Serious questions are now being asked over who is running Birmingham City Council following the shock departure of chief executive Mark Rogers.

Council leader John Clancy (centre) with Mark Rogers (left) and deputy leader Ian Ward.

Serious questions are now being asked over who is running Birmingham City Council following the shock departure of chief executive Mark Rogers.

The timing of his exit could not have been much worse with the council's annual budget setting meeting on Tuesday, February 28.

Certainly the council's leadership was caught on the hop, with Labour leader John Clancy taking a few days break while others were focussed on putting the final touches to their spending plans.

And many have come to the view that the removal of Mr Rogers has been engineered by Local Government Secretary Sajid Javid via the Birmingham Independent Improvement Panel (BIIP).

The Panel has been overseeing the council's road to improvement since the damning Kerslake report in 2014 revealed deep seated problems. It’s dim view of progress already led indirectly to the resignation of Sir Albert Bore as leader in 2015 .

One of Kerslake’s recommendations was that the council stop bleating about Government austerity policies and cuts and got on with implementing them.

It is clearly a message that was not heeded by Mr Rogers during various comments and interviews, including one with the Guardian in December , in which he highlighted the impact of cuts on the city’s most vulnerable.

Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
Sajid Javid

The job of challenging Government belongs to the council’s political leader John Clancy, not its head of paid staff.

Mr Rogers might have been able to ride this out, but for the fact that there was a £49 million black hole in its 2016/17 budget which had to be filled from reserves. He was seen as particularly culpable as lead official on the closer working between the NHS and social care which failed to deliver promised savings.

It certainly appears that the city council in general, and councillor Clancy in particular, was warned that the BIIP would deliver a more favourable verdict in its next report to the Secretary of State if Mr Rogers were no longer in situ.

Keep him and there would be a highly increased risk of direct Government intervention probably through the dispatch of Whitehall commissioners to take over, as happed in Tower Hamlets a couple of years ago.

The rights and wrongs of this depend very much on whether you see Birmingham City Council as a failing organisation in need of a kick up the backside and whether you believe the Government would do a better job.

Mark Rogers
Mark Rogers

Whichever line you take his sudden departure now leaves the council in disarray and rudderless going into a major period of change.

Chief executive is not the only vacancy at the top. Education and social services chief Peter Hay is retiring in a few weeks, three other senior directors are in acting or temporary positions and the finance director is thought to be on leave ahead of his departure.

Only strategic director of change and corporate services Angela Probert, who arrived from Nottingham City Council in 2015, is in a permanent position at the top table - and now it seems she is stepping in as acting chief executive.

The fact this dismissal emerged while councillor Clancy was on holiday, with senior colleagues only consulted after the act, just days away from the budget shows how rushed it all was.

There was no planned announcement to either staff or the councillors and there appears no succession plan in place.

It is not so much a question of who is running Birmingham City Council, but whether anyone is.

The White House in Birmingham

Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
US President Donald Trump

It also appears that the White House is not the only home of post-truth pronouncements and alternative facts.

While Birmingham’s Labour leader John Clancy and his team have remained largely silent on the chaos surrounding Mr Rogers’ sudden exit, a few snippets have escaped from the camp.

Most surprising was that the reason Mr Clancy has not returned from holiday to steady the ship was that there is nothing requiring his attention.

“It's business as usual,” was the response.

Only last week President Trump, whose first month in office was framed by the forced resignation of a senior adviser and the failure of his travel ban policy, described his administration as a “well oiled machine”.

Doncaster showing the way

Strongly linked with the likely vacancy running the well-oiled machinery of Birmingham City Council is Doncaster council chief executive Jo Miller.

She has been credited with sterling work turning Doncaster from the basket case authority it was a few years back into a half-decent local council.

And some noticed she has recently acquired an interest in politics in Birmingham – she started following West Midlands Mayoral candidate Andy Street over the weekend.

But the interest goes back much further. It was in a 2014 interview with the Guardian she explained “what Birmingham can learn from Doncaster”.

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