Today the Kerslake Review reported its independent review of the governance and organisational capabilities of Birmingham City Council.
To pick out a few points: the review states that the narrative within Birmingham and the Council needs to become more positive. I agree. It’s clearly time for Sir Albert to stop his doom and gloom narrative of recent years. The report suggests the public and businesses are crying out for a more positive vision but that instead, too often, Birmingham Council sees itself as a victim.
It states there is a blurring of roles between members and officers. I agree with that too. Since Labour returned to power in 2012, too many decisions are made by officers which previously were made by politicians. Unfortunately, in my opinion, a lot of the new Labour Councillors don’t seem to realise the power which Councillors have lost under Sir Albert (because they have only been around a couple of years).
The report says the current devolution arrangements within the city are confused and few people understand them. I tend to agree with that too. The Kerslake review’s solution is for District Committees to take on more of a Scrutiny role. This is a complete reversal of Sir Albert’s idea that District Chairmen should be semi Cabinet members. The report also suggests a drastic reduction in the number of other Scrutiny Committees. With so few Departments these days (everything’s been merged together) that would make sense.
The report suggests that all out elections should take over from Birmingham’s current “one third at a time” system. I agree with that too. The suggestion is that this should start in 2017, and that ward sizes would change – possibly to 100 wards each with just one Councillor (instead of the current 40 wards with 3 Councillors). That would mean no cover when Councillors were ill or on holiday and doesn’t seem an awfully sensible suggestion to me.
And finally, in this brief resume, the report notes that Birmingham gives a high priority to Refuse Collection and Waste Disposal – but goes on to say that the evidence suggests it is under performing in this area. Recycling rates are lower and the incidence of fly tipping amongst the highest in the country, it says. There is also considerable dis-satisfaction from residents about both the service and how the Council communicates. I agree with these comments too – and have been saying so for a long time. There was basically no recycling the last time Labour were in control (pre 2004). The Conservatives took over and introduced a massive and successful recycling roll out. Then Labour took over again in 2012, and the service has once again nose dived. The green waste charge has been a disaster – leading to angry residents, and an increase in fly tipped green waste.
And on that note, this weekend the reminders went out by email to people who signed up for the green collection last year, saying that they need to pay again. And yesterday I had the first phone call from a resident saying, “Surely I haven’t got to pay again to have my green waste collected? I thought it was just a one off payment last year to buy the bin.”
I thought it was pretty clear some people would think that. Sir Bob Kerslake was right. Birmingham does NOT communicate well with residents on the subject of waste disposal.