bob kerslakeThe author of a recent ‘independent’ government report, Sir Bob Kerslake, is the first accountant to lead the civil service and works with Mr Pickles as Permanent Secretary at the Department for Communities and Local Government.

They appear to forget that many of the city’s problems – including an under-funded children’s services department and lack of good training, care and education for its less privileged youngsters – date from the time the city was under Conservative-Liberal Democrat control.

Both administrations have invested in ‘iconic’ city centre development, whilst neglecting the areas where those on below average incomes live.

Today’s prime example of the failure of this strategy is that the Library of Birmingham is to reduce its hours significantly and a hundred more jobs will go. Brian Gambles, the director, has resigned. The council borrowed to fund this icon and now has to pay £12m annual debt servicing charges.

Another icon, the NEC exhibition centre, is on sale — so far without any takers.

german market

As the city is congested by the German Christmas market, drawing crowds from afar to buy over-priced trivia, councillors are reading this government-commissioned review of the council’s “governance and capabilities”, and its verdict that it showed a “dysfunctional” management, failing its poorest communities and being unable to deliver the most basic services.

Grant Thornton, the city auditors, warn that the city’s heavy debt charges could leave the council unable to settle the £638m it owes to hundreds of female staff over a longstanding equal pay dispute pursued by both administrations from the early 2000s.

Kerslake has recommended setting up an “improvement panel” to oversee  Birmingham’s performance from Whitehall. The panel will report back to government next December. If insufficient change has been made, some forecast the break-up of the council . . . whatever that implies.

Time for change – at national and local level. A Green/NHAP decentralising coalition could do no worse and might well do far better !

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