Saturday, 14 December 2013


The BBC reports that Birmingham City Council has announced reforms of its troubled Children’s Services Department. 

There is a £10m injection of funds to help recruit more experienced social workers, and that must be a very welcome. But I began to lose the plot as I read on to discover details of structural and management reforms.

According to Children and Young People Now a list of options for change was considered including:

+ Breaking up the service to cover different parts of the city
+ Outsourcing all children’s services
+ Establishing a trust accountable to the Department for Education
+ Establishing a trust accountable to Birmingham Council

In the end they have resolved to do something called ‘integrated transformation’, the aim of which is said to be to create a partnership with other agencies, delivering services through locally based teams of social workers and other professionals such as “doctors, nurses and teachers”. Charities and voluntary groups would also be involved.

Apparently 'integrated transformation' is seen as a powerful antidote to working in silos.

I wish Birmingham all the best in trying to improve its services. But it all seems a bit random to me. The list of alternatives looks like it might have been conjured up out of thin air. And I know I won’t be alone in saying that I don’t like the pretentious choice of nomenclature – ‘integrated transformation’ sounds like the work of management consultants locked in a 1990s time warp!

I suspect that the main problem with these proposals is that too much attention has been given to ‘what can be done?’ and too little attention to ‘what’s actually wrong?’

I’m not clear what the problems in Birmingham are and I suspect I’m not alone. I bet there is lack of clarity about that issue in the Council itself and among its senior managers and in the Department for Education and in Ofsted.

But my view is that unless you really get to grips with what is wrong with an organisation, you will always be tinkering and probably doing more damage in the process. I would like to see someone from Birmingham making public their analysis of the problems. That way there could be a proper public discussion of the solutions. As it is all we do is shrug and hope (probably vainly if the past is any guide) that they know what they are doing.