Birmingham City Council is the largest local authority in Western Europe. It has a gross budget of about £2,400,000,000 and employs (including teachers and school staff) over 55,000 people.
When I became Deputy Leader of The Council in June 2004 I had already been a City Councillor since 1990. I had a reasonably wide experience of organisations including the company I founded in 1983 jhc plc (Aka John Hemming and Company) which now has around 100 staff (including partners) and turns over about £6 Million.
The organisational dynamic is quite interesting. For those people who liked "Yes minister" being a fly on the wall during some of the internal meetings in the City Council would be quite entertaining. The Standards Board for England prevents me from telling all the truth about the city council.
It is quite clear that the previous administration did not try to manage the authority. The leader Cllr Sir Albert Bore did manage to control some things. Other members of the executive had some influence, but generally the paid full time staff "The Officers" ran rings around them.
One of the most interesting stories about the difference between the current administration and the prior administration comes from one of the secretaries who said of the department that she was secretary to the executive councillor "They take notice of us now". It makes a clear statement that under the prior administration the bureaucracy ignored the executive councillors. On that basis they would then ignore the citizens as the elected politicians are there to be the voice of the citizens.
There are lot of techniques used by some in the bureaucracy to mislead the executive. Let me be entirely clear, however, there are some really very good senior officers who do a very good job. These people are a dream to work with as they tell you the unvarnished truth and work to improve services. There are others, however, who hide and hope we will go away.
The challenge for the new administration is an interesting one. In part it is changing the culture of the organisation. There are some interesting stories I could tell about how this seems to be happening, but if I did I would probably be referred to the Standards Board for England and on balance I shall have to keep the stories out of print.
I will, however, give more details of the techniques used by people to avoid doing what they are supposed to be doing. (Something that is not unique to the public sector and also exists in the private sector).