Birmingham City Council gets more Strategic

One of the focuses of this blog is to document strategies and plans arising from the Council. Why do I do this? Well after having worked for many years for the Council I was acutely aware that there was little internal debate about the coherence and delivery of these strategies and little debate about their effectiveness. They were in effect the end product. The Council felt that having produced a strategy – that was it – job done. This tendency has been diminishing in recent years but I was surprised recently to see this report on the progress against the Social Inclusion White Paper. What is wrong with this report. Well it celebrates events, further discussions and meetings including international visits but makes no attempt to quantify progress over the last year. It mentions the Council has signed up to the Living Wage – how many people have benefited from this approach?; how many organisations working in the partnership efforts behind this have equally agreed to this approach? The report just seems to be about process and not about resources and results. The danger is a lot of effort is being put into the discussions without a real understanding of the likely effectiveness and without real partner sign up.

I started this blog post intending to be positive – and here comes the positive part. I list on this site lots of strategies the Council has produced to point out the lack of co-ordination – but this is to change. No I am not going to stop listing such links. No the Council is looking to strengthen its strategic functions. In the recent Council Business Plan and Budget 2014 report this was detailed. It proposes four key elements.

  • A Policy Board of senior managers and councillors that will set the priorities and oversee the resources allocated to policy development work 
  • An annual Policy Development Plan (to be set out in June alongside the Leader’s Policy Statement) that will set out programmes and projects for the year ahead – ensuring that  resources are not wasted on non-priority areas or non-viable policy ideas 
  • A new Birmingham Policy Community that will enable the Council to bring in support from experts in academic centres, think tanks, consultancies, government and other local authorities to help develop our plans for the future 
  • A Strategy Hub to bring together key officers to drive these new arrangements

Now there is a danger that this is just more paperwork but it is encouraging as the reference to developing a Birmingham Policy Community is vital. Drawing on the expertise in the wider city is really important. Having informed debate and research on key issues in the city will fill a real gap. As an example the work on LEP’s new Spatial Plan for Recovery and Growth (draft here) has really benefited from such wider engagement of the academic and private sectors.

This Community needs buy in from the City’s Universities. Interaction between the Council and Birmingham’s Universities has been increasing in recent years (perhaps related to the academic backgrounds of some of the Cabinet members?). The Council has now committed to doing more; it is now up to the Universities to show such a commitment.

Civic UniversityThe concept of what a ‘Civic University’ should be was rethought out recently in a paper by John Goddard for NESTA.  This focuses on what Universities can added to tackling local, national and international issues. Each University should think strategically about what it can best add to this new process in the City.  A suggestion as well – perhaps it would be better if this Policy Community had a focus; whether this was in the short run a quarterly meeting of key players and in the long run wouldn’t it be great to set up a cross University centre to focus this discussion and research. Leadership for this element should not be from the Council.

Important as well is the proposal for a Strategy Hub for officers. This will hopefully ensure policy work is not siloed and is strategic.  I look forward to the day when the Council website can itself list its strategies in one place; where it can tell the strategic story of what the Council is seeking to do without resorting to motherhood and apple pie blandness. These changes in the approach to Policy development in the Council are a good first step to greater coherence and  effectiveness; so perhaps next year we will get an update on the Social Inclusion White Paper that has  some attempt to quantify the impact of the ongoing work.

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