Birmingham Independent Improvement Panel latest report
Birmingham City Council warned it faces mammoth task to balance its 2017/18 budget.
The Birmingham Independent Improvement Panel today published a letter to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, reporting on the progress that Birmingham City Council has made in implementing the recommendations of the Kerslake Report in the twenty-one months since the report’s publication.
The Panel’s letter is published alongside the Council’s own self-assessment of its progress Strengthening the Foundations.
The letter reports on positive aspects of the Council’s progress in continuing to implement its improvement plans in the period April to October 2016 but it also sets out the Panel’s concerns about the slow pace of change in the Council’s organisational culture.
The Panel draws attention to the Council’s serious overspend for 2016/17, estimated to be around £49m, that results from flawed planning and insufficient delivery of the Council’s revenue budget for the year. Consequently, the Council faces a mammoth task to prepare a balanced budget for 2017/18. With very limited general reserves available, this potentially places at risk its future success.
Commenting on the Panel’s report to the Secretary of State the Chair of the Panel, John Crabtree, said
‘Our discussions with the Leader, Cabinet Members and Chief Executive have demonstrated that they are actively engaged in joint working to understand and grip the full challenge now facing the Council, and to identify and consult on the measures needed to bridge the very substantial financial gap for 2017/18.
Given the need for the Council to have absolute confidence in the deliverability of the 2017/18 revenue budget when asked to approve it in March 2017, we have agreed with the Council to jointly commission an independent review of the 2017/18 budget. The review will have a particular focus on the quality and robustness of the Council’s delivery plans for 2017/18 across all areas of expenditure.
The letter makes clear that the Panel is concerned about the impact that tackling the financial concerns could have on the Council’s future improvement. It emphasises that the Council must continue to maintain its focus on the very important improvement programmes relating to education and children’s social care, including the development of plans for a Children’s Trust.
The Panel will report again to the Secretary of State on the Council’s progress and particularly in relation to the setting of the Council’s 2017/18 budget in March 2017.
Note. Documents published today by Birmingham City Council and other background document to the Panel’s report can be accessed here.
In December 2014 Lord Kerslake published The way forward: an independent review of the governance and organisational capabilities of Birmingham City Council.
Alongside the recommendations in the Kerslake report relating to action Birmingham City Council should take, Lord Kerslake recommended that the Secretary of State appoint an Independent Improvement Panel to work with the council to provide robust challenge and support.
The Improvement Panel was set up in January 2015. Its members are John Crabtree OBE (chair), Frances Done CBE (vice chair), Cllr Keith Wakefield OBE (former leader of Leeds City Council), and Steve Robinson (former chief executive of Cheshire West and Chester Council). Andrew Christie, children’s services commissioner for Birmingham, serves on the Panel as an ex officio member.