Panel stresses Birmingham's 'serious' financial position

After four years, the Birmingham Independent Improvement Panel has produced its final report, highlighting the council's 'immensely serious' financial position.

The government-commissioned independent panel has been scrutinising the council since 2014, and in its final report to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government it highlighted the need for more support to be given to the council, which Birmingham City Council leader Ian Ward said he was open to discussing.

The report did recognise vast improvements in the council's children's services, as well as 'many significant opportunities' in the future, notably the Commonwealth Games 2022 and the proposed HS2 rail link to London, but said that industrial disputes with bin workers had hampered overall progress. The cost of two long-running waste collection disputes has been estimated to have reached a cost of £14 million 'with no discernable improvement in the service to justify the expenditure'.

Perhaps of more immediate concern, it reports that Birmingham's 'financial position remains immensely serious and the risks to its financial resilience are considerable'.

The panel has now stood down because members felt it had done all it could within their terms of reference.

The council has also produced its own stocktake report, in which it highlighted the steps it has taken towards modernising and improving the way it provides services for resident. This includes: the first tenancies under Housing First scheme; looking at all options to improve the air quality for Birmingham citizens, including the creation of a Clean Air Zone; and introducing a new model of care that will enable greater independence and improved outcomes for vulnerable adults.

Ward said: “As the panel stands down and we move onto the next important stage in our improvement journey, my challenge and the challenge for everyone at Birmingham City Council is to build on the progress made to ensure that we provide the best possible outcomes for our citizens.

“We recognise that there are still challenges ahead around finance, industrial relations and embedding improvement. Given the recommendations of the panel that further independent challenge is required, I look forward to an early conversation with the Secretary of State over what shape that engagement will take. It's testament to the hard work and collective determination of staff, management and councillors that we have continued to make progress at what is a very testing time for local government. But the journey does not end here. We will not slow the pace of transformation as we continue to modernise and improve the support and services we provide for the people of Birmingham.”

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