A key recommendation of the notorious Kerslake report is that Birmingham City Council makes more of an effort to work with partner agencies and community groups – but a year on it appears the message is still struggling to get through to some parts of the authority.
While the NHS and charities which can provide services, share expertise and help the council reduce spending are being welcomed with open arms, some people, such as the Jewellery Quarter Research Trust , are finding the old habits are dying hard.
The trust carries out historical and family history research relating to the Key Hill and Warstone Lane cemeteries. Their website has built up an extensive database of the people buried there, including eight former mayors, various war heros, a holder of the Victoria Cross and the son of an Aboriginal king.
Prominent local figures like former Mayor Joseph Chamberlain and industrialists Alfred Bird and John Baskerville are among the residents.
Their research is available free. Every week the website gets hundreds of visitors from around the world – both those with a personal family interest and general researchers.
Some offer their own research to the site, including old articles, obituaries and records.
They hoped to illustrate each historical record with a photograph of the grave it relates to but, bizarrely, they have now been told they cannot take or publish photographs without the explicit permission of the council, which has been denied.
In the past they have not only been able to photograph historic graves but they have also snapped fly-tipped rubbish and examples of bad parking to alert officials to problems.
The trust’s chairman Doug Wilks is absolutely baffled by the ruling. “We’ve worked hard over the years to build up that database.
“I think they just want to control it,” he says.
Last year, the listed cemeteries were awarded a £1.3 million Heritage Lottery Fund grant to pay for restoration work. It is part of a wider project to raise the profile of the Jewellery Quarter as a visitor attraction.
There are already various regular guided tours and historical walks through both cemeteries.
So the ban on the research trust seems even more odd when the city council is looking to boost tourism and wants more visitors with their smartphones taking selfies.
But according to the letter sent to the trust: “The permission of the superintendent shall be obtained before any object in a cemetery is photographed or a video recording is commenced.”
It was just over a year ago the Government troubleshooter Lord Bob Kerslake found that the culture of the city council was “dominant and over-controlling and that the council is complex, impenetrable and to narrowly focused on its own agenda”. He also highlighted a “council knows best culture”.
That view was based on feedback from dozens of businesses, community groups, schools, charities and voluntary groups throughout the city.
It is important because, as council funding is cut, the council has to instead use its resources to enable groups to help themselves.
To be fair, the new Labour leader John Clancy has made tackling the deficiencies in partner working a priority – he has repeated the mantra that he wants the council to work with the city rather than do things to the city.
It just needs that message to get through to all parts of the organisation.
Sensibly, the Birmingham Lib Dem group will not be having a major battle over the right to succeed Paul Tilsley as leade r – the deputy Jon Hunt has emerged as the only applicant for the role.
Coun Tilsley’s shoes will be big ones to fill having been deputy leader of the city council between 2005 and 2012 and a councillor since the dawn of time (in political timescales). CounHunt has been Tilsley’s deputy for several years, run a scrutiny committee and with his colleagues managed to keep what was a marginal Perry Barr council seat firmly in Lib Dem hands for the last decade – often against the prevailing political tide.
And his background credentials are of course impeccable – before embarking on his political career, he used to be health correspondent for the Birmingham Post .
Size doesn't matter
You can trust Labour cabinet member Councillor Stewart Stacey to lower the tone of the debate at this week’s meeting with his assertion that “size doesn’t matter”.
He was, with a knowing wink, referring to housing during a discussion of the city’s council tax base.
The council has only about 15,000 high-value properties out of 434,000 in the city and therefore doesn’t benefit from high levels of council tax.
It was suggested the council needed to encourage the development of larger properties – five and six bedrooms.
But as Coun Stacey pointed out “the size doesn’t matter”, it’s “location, location, location”.