‘The Future of Community Governance in Birmingham’: A response by Birmingham Against the Cuts

The Council has produced a consultation paper on ‘The Future of Community Governance in Birmingham’. It and two related papers are at http://birmingham.gov.uk/community-governance-review. Quotes below are from the paper. BATC’s comments are in boxes.

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If you want to see what Kerslake wants for Birmingham, look at Leeds

Neoliberalism imposes a policy framework on local councils which has two components:
‘roll-back’ and ‘roll-out’. Roll-back neoliberalism comprises reductions in the role and powers of local councils, most obviously through massive cuts in grants to urban authorities, but also through legislative restrictions (e.g. Gove’s requirement that all new schools had to be academies or free schools, not LA schools). Roll-out neoliberalism is the putting in place of a new transformed model of local government. Driving this is the function of the Kerslake Review, because for government the transformation in Birmingham is not going far enough or fast enough.
For Kerslake a model that Birmingham should emulate is Leeds. The Review makes favourable reference four times to Leeds. This is one:

‘Other local authorities, such as Leeds (see ‘Example Strategic Planning Framework’ box p.35), have used their civic leadership role to develop a shared narrative and priorities for their city’s future. They have used this to help agree shared strategic objectives across the city and to form the partnerships that are needed to deliver them.’ (p36. Also pp16, 39, 48.)

Eric Pickles has just announced the Improvement Panel put in place to ensure BCC implements the Kerslake Review. It comprises four people, one of whom is Keith Wakefield, leader of Leeds city council.

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Birmingham’s District Committees exclude co-opted members elected by Ward Committees: Leeds welcomes them

We think that Birmingham has something to learn from Leeds in terms of citizen participation. Leeds is a long way from the sort of participatory democracy that we want, but for Birmingham it would represent a step in the right direction, because Leeds’ equivalent of District Committees does not comprise only councillors. It also includes co-opted members who are elected representatives of its equivalent of Ward Committees. This is what BATC has been arguing for for Birmingham.

Birmingham’s Scrutiny Inquiry into ‘The Role of Councillors on District Committees’

As part of the ongoing debate about the future shape of local government in Birmingham the Districts and Public Engagement O&S Committee has been holding a Scrutiny Inquiry into ‘The Role of Councillors on District Committees’. It has held Evidence Gathering Sessions into Housing (18 November) and Community Libraries and Youth Service (9 December), and a visit to the Erdington District (2 December). In January 2015 it published an Evidence pack.

The Inquiry contains two models of what are obviously regarded by the Committee as models for the way forward. One is the active role of the Erdington District Committee. The other is the model of devolved local government in Leeds. Its significance is indicated by the fact that documents from Leeds City Council take up 23 pages of the 94 page report.

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A response by BATC to the Kerslake Review

(Quotes from the Review are in boxed italics)

Sir Bob Kerslake is Permanent Secretary at the Department for Communities and Local Government. But he is no neutral civil servant. In April 2013 he wrote in the Daily Telegraph in praise of Margaret Thatcher and her pioneering privatisation programme. Now he has been sent into Birmingham as Eric Pickles’ hatchet-man to force Birmingham Council’s privatisation programme to go further and faster.

The purpose of the Kerslake Review is to make the Council a more efficient model of neo-liberal transformation from a provider of services to a commissioner of services by external providers in the driving context of drastic reductions in its budget.

23. BCC needs as a matter of urgency to develop a robust plan for how they are going to manage their finances up to 2018/19 without recourse to further additional funding from central Government. This should: … involve residents and partners. (pp48-9)

This transformation requires three major and interrelated changes to local government in Birmingham:

1. Efficient strong central corporate leadership and management by the Council – devolution of power to Districts is inefficient.

2. External partners (private and third sector) not only as providers of services but as partners in the governance of the city, i.e. in the formation as well as the implementation of policy.

3. Involvement by the community in this transformation, but not empowerment. Any transfer of power to communities would weaken central control and risk challenging both the cuts programme and partnerships with the private sector. Community involvement is necessary for two reasons: to induce community acceptance of the austerity programme, and to substitute community provision for some aspects of reduced provision. The latter is as much for ideological reasons, symbolising legitimising the cuts in democratic terms, as for actually saving money, which is likely to be minimal.

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Ward Committees still won’t be fit for purpose! A response by BATC to the Council report ‘Are Ward Committees Fit for Purpose?’

The District and Public Engagement Overview and Scrutiny Committee Inquiry report ‘Are Ward Committees Fit for Purpose?’ was approved by Council on 6 January 2015. It followed a report on “Citizen Engagement” published by the Committee in February 2014 which concluded that “Ward Committees are not currently fit for the purpose set out in the Leader’s Policy Statement (2012) as the major means for citizens to engage on issues affecting their area.” (BATC published a response to it.1)

The Council then set up another inquiry, specifically into Ward Committees, by the same Scrutiny Committee (now chaired by Cllr Zaffar in place of Cllr Trickett), which has come to exactly the same conclusion: they are not fit for purpose. Referring to the purpose of Ward Committees as spelled out in the Council Constitution, the Inquiry report concludes: ‘we cannot say that they maximise the influence of local people over the way in which the functions of the Council (or other public agencies) are discharged within the Ward.’ (2.1.3).

This is BATC’s response to the Inquiry report. Our comments on the Kerslake Review’s proposals for Wards can be found in ‘A response by BATC to the Kerslake Review’ on our website.

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Comments on 2014 Green Paper “Responding to the challenge – looking to the future”

Comments on 2014 Green Paper

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Public meeting: No to Privatization – the future of children’s services in Birmingham

untitled (2 of 13)

Helga Pile, UNISON National Officer for Social Care, speaking on the Con-Dem Government’s reforms of children’s social care

Prof Sue White, Professor Sue White, Professor of Social Work (Children and Families),

@CelticKnotTweets speaking about the Doncaster Children’s social care trust company model

Doncaster’s Childrens services trust company structure explained

On Thursday 23rd October, West Midlands SWAN in conjuction with UNISON and Birmingham Against the Cuts, will host a meeting entitled ‘No to Privatization: the future of children’s services in Birmingham and the national implications’. The meeting’s main speakers will be Professor Sue White and Helga Pile (Social Care Lead, Unison). This will be held from 7pm in Committee Rooms 3-4, Birmingham Council House.

The Problem
Birmingham’s beleaguered children’s service have come under repeated assault from Ofsted and senior politicians and is seemingly unable to lift itself out of a crisis. Some say this has been in its own making.

The Government and appointed experts have suggested that Birmingham is ‘too big’, it has been poorly led and it needs a clean break from the past. Julian Le Grand and his review team said that constant re-organisations had been demoralising and that there was a ‘lack of external challenge’.

Birmingham does not take as many children into care as other authorities, but in doing do may be placing more children at risk? If families are to be supported how do making massive cuts in preventive services help?

There has been a historic under-spend in children’s services compared to other cities with comparable problems. The council say they have put back £9m, but are coy about the fact that this has only been found at the expense of cuts elsewhere in children’s services.

Social work vacancy levels are running at 25% with many experienced staff leaving to work in neighbouring authorities.

The Solution
The Con-Dem coalition is pushing for all children’s services to be outsourced and wants Birmingham to lead the way. In April the Government proposed that council’s could delegate almost all of their social services functions relating to children. There was a massive outcry to the idea that G4S and Serco might be in charge of child protection. 70,000 people signed a petition and 37 leading experts wrote to a national newspaper in protest. In June the Government announced an apparent U-turn but the redrafted regulations allowed profit-making companies to set up a ‘non-profit making’ subsidiary.

What Next?
How do we oppose privatization in all its disguises? Should we entertain non-profit making organisations or are they the thin edge of the wedge? Is Birmingham’s Labour Group giving up on children’s services every remaining a directly run service and why?

This meeting will give a platform for the opposition to and the arguments against privatisation to continue to be heard. All welcome.

About the Speakers
Sue White is a professor at the Institute for Applied Social Studies, at the University of Birmingham and was one of a number of leading academics who signed the petitioning letter published in the Guardian in May (http://bit.ly/1nZDR04) that made front page news. Sue’s latest book with Brig Featherstone and Kate Morris, ‘Re-imagining Child Protection: Towards humane social work with families’, is published by Policy Press.
Helga Pile is UNISON’s National Officer for social care and social work. Helga is a frequent media commentator and represented UNISON on a wide range of social work issues including the Social Work Reform Board.

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