Birmingham Policy Community

A Democratic City

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    City region governance and leadership

    Birmingham is at the heart of a conurbation of over 2.5m people, but our arrangements for governing that area have been fragmented since 1986 and effective collaboration between the seven local authorities has been difficult. On the establishment of Local Enterprise Partnerships to replace the Regional Development Agency, the conurbation split into three LEPs, with Birmingham sitting within a LEP covering Solihull and a number of rural districts in the travel to work area. Two further LEPs cover the Black Country (Wolverhampton, Dudley, Sandwell and Walsall) and Coventry and Warwickshire (including Rugby and Warwick).

    The local authorities across the metropolitan area are now keen to develop a stronger partnership, with the awareness that other core city regions are moving towards Combined Authority arrangements, which provide for stronger governance and greater confidence from government. It is clear that the case for a bigger single pot of funding and greater freedoms and flexibilities relies on more effective city region governance. As a first step, a new Integrated Transport Authority has been created, overseen by the seven council leaders. Collaboration is also taking place between the LEPs in pursuit of their Growth Plans.

    We are interested in understanding the success factors for city regional governance and the options for future development, including new statutory provisions that we could work on with government.

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    Models of neighbourhood economic development and regeneration and how they link to city region strategies

    With a growing population and an expanding city centre, Birmingham’s future economic and social prosperity depends upon careful and co-ordinated management of strategic developments. The Regeneration service is making a real and tangible difference to people’s quality of life. We are looking to identify new and existing models of neighbourhood economic development and regeneration and how this links to our city region strategies. We are also looking to identify best practise for neighbourhood regeneration.

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    Taking forward neighbourhood budgets and neighbourhood management

    Much work has been done in Birmingham to explore the potential for neighbourhood management and neighbourhood budgets, going back to the early days of neighbourhood renewal and including three community budget (“our place”) pilots. There is strong potential for achieving better outcomes as well as savings by looking at local resources (both public sector and community) in an integrated way. How do we mainstream neighbourhood based working across the city without an additional public sector resource?

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    The potential for housing associations to take on a wider role in the local neighbourhood

     Housing services, whether provided by housing associations or the city council have an alternative source of income in rents. In many parts of the city there are a number of housing providers and each has a separate approach to the maintenance and management of their properties and the surrounding land. As part of our move towards more integrated neighbourhood services there is a big scope for developing a wider role for housing providers in looking after the local neighbourhood and streets. In council housing the restrictions of the Housing Revenue Account might limit the scope of this ambition, though we are keen to explore ways forward, linked to PDT 22 (community leadership and ownership in social housing).

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    Community leadership and ownership in social housing

    We are clear that Birmingham’s road to being a Smart City will involve radical change in the technologies and information we use to deliver service outcomes.  We want to develop our Smart City vision and roadmap to come forward with clear, practical proposals for the application of new technologies in public services.  How can technologies allow people to tailor the services they use (and those they contribute to) to their own needs?  What sort of information management and open data strategy will we need?

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    The potential for community organisations such as neighbourhood forums and social enterprises to play a wider role

    Community organisations already play an important part in the life of communities across the city. And as the City Council forges ahead with plans to devolve – and involve more people in – decision making in Birmingham, they will play an ever more vital role. There is an increasing need for communities to be less reliant on public services and do more for themselves therefore it is important that we research how community organisations can play a wider role. E.g. can social enterprises play a wider role in looking after the local neighbourhood and streets? What is the level of interest in this and what do we need to do to promote this? What support do we need to provide to allow neighbourhood forums and social enterprises to play wider role and what extra powers can we give to community organisations?

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    Neighbourhood democracy, inclusion and participation

    Empowering local people to shape their neighbourhoods has to be a key part of the solution to create a more inclusive city. A key lesson from past neighbourhood working in Birmingham and elsewhere is that many local issues are dealt with better when public service providers work together and with local communities to deliver ‘local solutions to local problems. Co-ordinating work and developing a more integrated, democratic approach to “neighbourhood services” could therefore have a significant impact on the local quality of life. We are looking to find a way to empower people to shape their neighbourhood, encouraging greater participation and strengthening relationships between different areas.

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    The potential and future organisation of neighbourhood planning

    Neighbourhood Planning is a process by which communities can come together and prepare land use plans that will guide the type of developments they would wish to see in their neighbourhood. Many communities across Birmingham have a real sense of pride and compassion for their communities and want to have an active role in the planning of their neighbourhood. We are looking to identify the potential and future organisation of neighbourhood planning and how it can help encourage greater participation and help people to shape their neighbourhood.

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    Improving the local environment

    Parks, recreation grounds and other public open spaces are a valuable community resource providing environmental, social and economic benefits to the residents of Birmingham. Over four years we will provide new modern leisure centres for the 21st century and empower citizens to help manage our parks and green spaces, ensuring that Birmingham residents can enjoy quality sport, leisure and recreation. We are interested in finding ways to involve communities in all aspects of park provision, including design and management to create a greater sense of local ownership and pride in the external environment.

    We are looking to answer questions such as: how can we support the development of a safe, clean and green city? How can the council, communities and businesses work best together to improve the local environment? And what are the best ways of raising awareness and in persuading people to help make the city cleaner?

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    Towards a single place budget for Birmingham – what we can do and how government needs to help

    We know that the future sustainability of our public services, particularly in social care and health, depends on closer integration. But we also have a vision of a “whole place settlement” for Birmingham (shared by the other Core Cities and included in our Prospectus for Growth). This would enable us to look for synergies across the whole of local public services and begin to design services focused on the “whole person”. The previous Total Place and Whole Place pilots have demonstrated clearly how agencies can come together locally to achieve significant savings and improved outcomes in specific service areas. We would like to map out the potential across a wider range of services. Importantly we also need to identify:

    • How far down this road we can go with limited central government reform
    • What reforms on Whitehall budgeting and delivery would be needed to bring about genuine “whole place” budgeting.

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    Integration of Health and Social Care

    It is now widely accepted that developing integrated care is central to meeting the substantial challenges that lie ahead. People do not want health-care or social care; they simply want the best care. Councils, NHS trusts, GPs and clinical commissioning groups are now expected to work closer together to meet increasing demand. It is important that we create a holistic approach that puts people first; we are interested in exploring examples of how this can be best achieved. We are keen to develop this further by analysing what can be done to create a truly joined up system, e.g. what the role of technology might be. Is there way of giving social workers (along with NHS professionals) patient/ service user information at their fingertips – where all the information was shared?

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    Care in the community – how can health and social care become more neighbourhood and community focused?

    Expanding community services does not simply mean moving care out of hospital – it means developing a whole new way of caring. We need to research into how we remove some of the demand for a range of difference activities in hospital and instead bring them into the community. Identifying issues such as what role will the public and third sector need to play in transferring care into the community? What health services and procedures can be moved out of hospital and into the community? What are best practise examples of care in the community and what infrastructure needs to be in place to facilitate this?

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    The role of the “democratic core” of the City Council – politics and regulatory services

    Whatever the role of out-sourcing and the diversity of service providers in the future, there will always be a core set of regulatory and democratic functions that can only be done by local government. We need to identify what these are and develop a more integrated and efficient approach to providing them.


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