Man sent to Birmingham’s rescue suggested staff ‘would need permission to buy loo roll’

Max Caller
Mr Caller has been brought in by Michael Gove to oversee the recovery of the city's finances

The man drafted in to rescue Birmingham City Council from effective bankruptcy once told staff he had the power to require them to ask permission to buy lavatory paper.

Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, has called in Max Caller CBE from retirement after the Labour-run council plunged into a financial crisis.

Mr Caller, a former chief executive of the London councils Hackney and Barnet, is seen as the Government’s go-to troubleshooter for ailing local authorities.

Earlier this month, Birmingham City Council was forced to issue a section 114 notice, which means it has to halt all new spending immediately, barring a few exceptions.

Birmingham City Council stats
Birmingham City Council stats

One of Mr Caller’s former colleagues has claimed that when Hackney Council was in the throes of a 114 notice in 2000, Mr Caller used an unorthodox analogy to explain what that now entailed for the council’s day-to-day spending under his tenure.

Luke Akehurst, then chief whip for the council’s Labour group, said that Mr Caller, by way of illustration, told staff that they would have to, for example, ask for permission to purchase lavatory paper as this did not come under statutory spending.

Items such as stationery and office equipment would have to theoretically be signed off by him.

There was strong public dissatisfaction with Mr Caller’s appointment, which led to protesters marching in the streets.

Police were also drafted in to protect the town hall from arsonists when his first budget was announced.

Mr Caller, who describes his job role as “Dormant Volcano” on LinkedIn, said it was an easy decision to come out of retirement to fix the authority.

In an interview with the Financial Times, he said: “You can’t turn down an opportunity to sort out Birmingham.”

He added: “The only thing you shouldn’t worry about is why you got in a mess.

“If you spend time looking backwards you are not spending time getting better services for the people.”

‘Inefficient and unaccountable’

Mr Gove is poised to install a team of commissioners to take over the day-to-day running of the authority after finding the “scale of mismanagement” was larger than thought.

Announcing the intervention, he said last week: “Birmingham Council’s record is of ineffective, inefficient and unaccountable government. It is failing in its basic duties.

“Where local leaders fail, it is residents who are let down. This cannot go on.

“I can announce that I am today writing to the council to set out my proposal to intervene and appoint commissioners, and that I intend to launch a local inquiry.

“I do not take these decisions lightly, but we must protect the interests of residents and taxpayers of Birmingham and provide assurance to the sector.”

He described Mr Caller as an experienced local government professional and the “preferred candidate to lead the intervention if the package of proposals are implemented”.