Last Wednesday I went to the city council chambers for a public hearing on the Kerslake Review, organised by Pauline from News in Brum. The event was organised because of the lack of debate around the report’s release; “We are bringing the city together to debate the topic the council won’t.”
For those asking what is the Kerslake Review; “In July 2014, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, and Sir Albert Bore, Leader of Birmingham City Council commissioned Sir Bob Kerslake to conduct an independent review of corporate governance in Birmingham City Council.” – Taken from gov.uk, where you can find the report in full.
The debate itself was led by a panel. Chaired by Diane Kemp from Birmingham City University, the panel also included: Pauline Geoghegan of News in Brum; Alex Yip Vice-Chair of BCProject, Business Director; Sohail Hussain, a West Midlands Youth Commissioner; Catherine Staite from Institute of Local Government at University of Birmingham; and David Bailey, Professor of Industry at Aston University . Deliberately not the usual faces but an impressive line up never the less, one panelist admitted to having not read the 68 page report he was asked to give an opinion on, which felt a little disrespectful. However the majority of the three hours, a strict timeline as the room was being paid for privately by News in Brum (helped out with an impromptu donations on the night), was given over to the floor.
Whilst there were a few conspiracy theories and agenda pushing, these were thankfully minimal and the majority of speakers were considered and thoughtful. There was a real feeling of love for the city, mixed with a sadness that things have gotten this bad, but a desire to move forward and improve; “Birmingham used to lead the way, now what are we leading the way in?” Speakers from the floor also questioned the links between regional/local government and central government, issues around devolved powers, and a feeling that Birmingham was missing out on funding compared to other areas of the country. It was clear that there were a lot of informed and passionate people in the audience, with a real desire to see things improve.
Ultimately, whilst the opportunity to talk seemed cathartic, I do wonder what good it will have. A report on governance felt like it was asking the council to get its house in order, and as there’s been no official forum to debate within the council, it seems that ideas on improvement from residents are even less likely to be heard. A video at the beginning of the debate illustrated that most people didn’t know about the review and with low turn-outs for local elections, it’s hard to really get a grip on whether residents really understand what their role is with engaging local government, and if they feel there is any at all. Still at least through the evening’s efforts there is some record of the residents of Birmingham speaking up, officially or not.
I left feeling like there were a lot of people wishing the city well, but no clear, agreed idea of how we the residents, the council itself and both groups together move forward. I wonder; what happens next?
‘Kerslake Debate 2: Child Poverty in Birmingham’ takes place at Parkside Lecture Theatre, Birmingham City University, near Millenium Point on Friday 13th March, 6.30-9pm. To book a space, visit http://newsinbrum.com/
My tweets from the evening https://storify.com/lauracreaven/kerslake-debate-my-tweets
Birmingham Post – Birmingham development centres too much on ‘glamour projects’ http://www.birminghampost.co.uk/news/regional-affairs/birmingham-development-centres-much-glamour-8701880
Chamberlain Files – Andy Howell slams council’s ‘shocking’ partnership record and ‘disgraceful’ refusal to debate Kerslake Review