The civil service chief who issued a damning report into Birmingham City Council has told the organisation it needs to get the basics right.
Sir Sir Bob Kerslake found a ‘council knows best culture’ and problems with ‘organisational disobedience’ where departments refused to accept the need to modernise or change to deal with the unprecedented cuts hitting the organisation.
Writing in The Guardian he also revealed that he had turned down the chance to become Birmingham City Council’s chief executive in 2002, after first being rejected.
Sir Bob, who was commissioned by Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles , was pipped to the post by American Valerie Lemmie, who then turned it down opting to stay on the other side of the Atlantic.
Sir Bob said: “The leader, Sir Albert Bore, came to see me in Sheffield where I was then chief executive to ask if I would take it on, but by then the moment had passed and I didn’t think I would have the authority to make the changes I would have wanted to.”
He said he had learned then what a ‘great city Birmingham is’ and that it has huge potential as an economic powerhouse.
But his three month review, commissioned in the light of persistent failures on child protection, the failure to deal with the Trojan Horse affair and the view that Birmingham is slipping behind other big
cities, most notably Manchester.
Sir Bob said: “The conclusions we reached were clear and unequivocal. There were some real positives, not least the passion for the city of its leadership and the commitment of the council staff. The overwhelming view, though, was that the council needed to change radically. As one person put it to us ‘Birmingham just can’t go on as it has been doing’.
“Such an honest report is always likely to provoke a strong reaction but I believe that Birmingham has responded well in the circumstances and is willing to pursue meaningful reform.”
He said that it is up to Birmingham City Council to implement the recommendations and face up to the challenges.
“One problem was cultural. In Birmingham we found a council-knows-best culture. Instead of looking to blame others or seek bailouts, the city leadership needs to develop a clear strategic vision that brings economic partners on board and lets officials focus on getting the basics – management and services – right.”
And equipping the population, particularly those in poorer areas, with the skills needed to take economic opportunities is vital to the city’s success he added.
The city council accepted the ‘broad thrust’ of his report and the majority of recommendations. Although it has asked the Government to reconsider the imposition of an improvement board – saying serving such a body would pile pressure on its already over stretched senior management which needs to focus on improvement.