Backbench councillors from all parties must have a say in reforms to Birmingham city council, while the authority itself must do more to boast of its successes, it has been told.
The warning came from the Birmingham Independent Improvement Panel, which was set up by Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles to ensure the council is improving.
It said ordinary councillors from all parties must have more say over the council’s plans as it warned council leader Sir Albert Bore and senior colleagues had not doing enough to listen to them.
It follows the publication last year of a report by former senior civil servant Lord Kerslake, which warned Birmingham City Council had to make sweeping changes in how it is run to ensure it maintains its status as Britain’s second city rather than fall behind competitors such as Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds.
Lord Kerslake warned that the council was failing to get “basic services” right, such as street cleaning and bin collections.
He claimed the authority was pouring cash into city centre projects while residents in poorer neighbourhoods were left without jobs or skills.
The council has now published its improvement plan for the next 12 months, which includes training to ensure councillors and staff understand their roles properly; developing a long-term financial plan to last until April 2021; giving the council’s deputy leader a role overseeing staff, and being more “humble” in its approach to working with other local bodies.
Mr Pickles has appointed a group known as the Birmingham Independent Improvement Panel chaired by business figure John Crabtree, a former senior partner of Wragge & Co and Advantage West Midlands director, to oversee the council’s progress.
It will eventually pass judgment on whether the authority is capable of improving. If not, the Government has warned the council could be broken up into two or more local authorities.
In a letter to the council leader, Mr Crabtree said: “All 120 city councillors need to be involved and a positive contribution of the opposition parties should be both welcomed and expected.
“The level of involvement of individual councillors outside the leadership in the development of the Improvement Plan has so far been limited.”
But it also urged the authority to boast about the city’s successes.
The letter said: “Despite the current difficulties faced by the council, Birmingham has many strengths and that there is a real pride and passion felt by its residents for the city.
“As the Kerslake report states ‘Birmingham is a great city’. We discussed with you the risk that with the necessary focus on the Improvement Plan and the fundamental changes needed, the council may fail to communicate the positive aspects of what is happening in the city and to engage successfully with its residents and partners.
“We suggest that priority should be given to developing a proactive communications strategy which will form part of the Future Council Programme.”
Sir Albert Bore said: “We have acted quickly to produce our action plan. Since it was published three months ago, good progress has been made on all of the recommendations set out in the original review.”