Birmingham City Council is failing to get “basic services” such as street cleaning and bin collection right, a damning government report has found.
Cash has poured into big city centre projects while residents in poorer parts of the city are left without jobs or skills.
And businesses, community groups and hospitals in the city find the council almost impossible to work with - because it thinks it knows best about everything.
The findings are published in a report by Sir Bob Kerslake, the troubleshooter sent in to the city by Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles to examine why Birmingham is lagging behind other major cities.
He said: “Things have to change, and they have to change quickly.”
The investigation was prompted by the so-called Trojan Horse affair, when inquiries uncovered a “co-ordinated, deliberate and sustained” campaign to introduce “an intolerant and aggressive Islamic ethos into a few schools”.
This came on top of concern about Birmingham’s inability to improve its child protection services, which were branded a “national disgrace” by the head of inspectors Ofsted last year, and about its poor finances, caused partly by the need to pay compensation to thousands of female workers who were paid less than men for similar work.
But Sir Bob, a former head of the civil service, found that the authority was failing even to provide the most basic services effectively.
In a report which will make grim reading for city leaders, he said the council tries to sweep big problems under the carpet rather than addressing them head on.
And while Birmingham does face challenges because it is the largest council in the country, he accused the authority of using this as an excuse for its failings.
Speaking in Whitehall as he prepared to travel to Birmingham to present his findings to councillors, he said: “The city council needs to focus on restoring its position. It was one of he leading local authorities 30 years ago.
“And in particular, on getting the basic services right.
"We know about Children’s Services but also quite a lot was said about street cleaning and waste management to us as well.”
And he added: “It needs to address, I think as a matter of urgency, some of the challenges around employment and skills.”
Birmingham had low employment rates and low skills compared to other cities, “and that situation’s got worse.”
“And it’s particularly acute in the most deprived parts of Birmingham, in the centre and the east of Birmingham.”
He added: “Despite the physical regeneration of the city centre, this has held the city back.”
The wisdom of spending £187 million on the new Library of Birmingham, where Sir Bob hosted public meetings during his inquiry, is also questioned in the report.
Sir Bob called for the authority to scrap current arrangements which involve electing a third of the council at a time. Instead, the entire authority should be elected every four years, starting in 2017, to make the council more accountable to residents.
The report says Birmingham’s 40 massive council wards - each with three councillors - should be replaced by smaller wards each with a single member.
This could also see the numbers of councillors cut from 120 today to 100 or perhaps even fewer.
Sir Bob said he had considered whether the authority should be broken up into smaller councils, but ruled it out - for now.
“Unless these improvements are addressed there is a risk that the issue of the size of Birmingham returns again,” he said.
Sir Bob also warned:
● Local business and public services trying to work with the council complained it was “over-controlling in the way it worked with them, and that it was complex, impenetrable and too narrowly focused on its own agenda.”
● The council needs to stop blaming funding cuts for its failings. “We recognise there are huge financial challenges, but too often it sees itself as a victim and it needs to stop.”
● The authority is failing to ensure it keeps the best staff as it makes cuts. “We found that the city lacked a clear workforce plan that guided the reductions in staffing and ensured they hung on to the people they needed.”
● Big problems can’t be swept under the carpet any longer. “We found also there had been a history of the city failing to tackle some difficult issues that they faced”.
● And the council must stop blaming its size. “They need to stop using the size of Birmingham as a reason for underperformance.”
Sir Bob praised council leader Sir Albert Bore and Chief Executive Mark Rogers for pressing ahead with plans to create a single combined authority for the region.
But he insisted the authority involving the Black Country councils and Solihull - even though Solihull council currently appears reluctant to join.
Sir Bob said: “We strongly welcome the combined authority moves.
“We think that historically this Birmingham-knows-best culture has got in the way of this and we welcome the fact that Sir Albert and Mark have taken a different approach to this issue.
“There is some ground to be made up here. Birmingham is a long way behind a number of other authorities.
“The Black Country authorities, Birmingham and Solihull all need to be a part of it. You can make a case for other authorities being a part of it as well.”