The million pound a year cost of commissioners running Birmingham City Council

Commissioner Max Caller
-Credit: (Image: Darren Quinton/Birmingham Live)


The price of Birmingham City Council's recovery from financial ruin is destined to be costly - and on top the council must also pay off the tab of expert commissioners set to cost over £1 million in a year.

Latest figures show the eight commissioners have earned £581,805 in six months - most of it paid in daily fees of £1,100 to £1,200 each. The top earner was lead commissioner Max Caller, who personally has picked up £102,900 just in fees, with expenses, fuel and hotel accommodation on top. He works, on average, 13-15 days a month.

The commissioners produce a quarterly breakdown of their monthly earnings on the council website. In the first quarter, October to December, they earned £282,330 between them, rising to £299,475 between January and the end of March.

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In that time they have helped oversee a major improvement and recovery plan, helped the council set a legal budget, negotiated a landmark deal with the council's main trade unions that ought to mark the end of equal pay claims for good by April 2025, and produced two interim reports for Secretary of State Michael Gove.

IT expert Myron Hrycyk has also helped turn around the broken 'Oracle' IT system. The eight commissioners are Max Caller, John Coughlan, Chris Tambini, Pam Parkes, Jackie Belton and Myron Hrycyk, with Lord John Hutton and John Biggs acting as political advisors. Announcing his intervention package for the ailing authority, Secretary of State Michael Gove said the eight were "best placed to take up these roles directly, due to their individual knowledge and experience in local authority leadership, decision-making, governance, finance, HR, IT and commercial development." He said he was "confident that they will be key to resolving Birmingham City Council’s issues as quickly and effectively as possible."

He also announced the intervention would remain in place for five years, which is longer than elsewhere and reflected "the severity and size of the challenge at Birmingham, in comparison to other intervention areas."

Mr Caller, 73, has previously said the intervention and the cost of commissioners would not have been necessary had the council controlled its financial affairs.

In a Birmingham Live interview, published in full in the Inside Birmingham with Jane Haynes newsletter last month, he confirms that before he was appointed to lead a Government intervention at the broke city council, Caller had been doing the rounds of the media to offer up his thoughts on Birmingham’s financial meltdown.

He’d spent time at the council back in 2019 as one of a panel of non executives providing external support, so was well placed to have a view. Caller contended that Birmingham had made a massive error choosing to host the Commonwealth Games in 2022 and that he had told them so back in 2019.

It was ‘a mistake’ and a ‘distraction’. "The problem with councils that are in trouble is they just need to focus on getting better, rather than trying to do nice new things," he said last year. "There is a limit to the amount of political and managerial capacity and if you're spending time doing Commonwealth Games you cannot cope with the serious problems that you already face. You can't do nice things if you haven't done the boring really well."

Read the full Max Caller interview here.

He says his entire focus in the months he has been overseeing affairs since is on lifting up the council that serves residents so it becomes again ‘the best in the country’ - because that is what residents need and deserve. “Every council in the country (including Birmingham) needs to remember it is there for the citizens, and that’s what drives me, always.

“It is all about the people, so when (anyone) says that I don’t care about these people, then (they) really don’t understand my motivation. My motivation in my entire career in local government is that it is the people that matter, even if that’s hard for the council.”

It’s why he insists on the highest levels of performance from officers and members, driving them on to act quickly - and that might not always win him friends. “In every single intervention, it is really hard work. But the end result is a better council. No matter how fast this council is going (on its improvement journey), it will not be fast enough. This council has got itself into a difficult place and its citizens deserve better.”

Residents are currently facing a 9.99% council tax hike, a mass sale of council land and property, hundreds of council job losses and a devastating series of budget cuts.

Public consultations are now taking place that will result in library, youth centre and day centre closures, cuts to services for children and young people with special needs, and there is more pain to come. On who is to blame for those looming cuts, Caller is clear. “Every single proposal in the budget is a council proposal. Commissioners did not dictate what they should be - the council chose to put them forward,” he said.

Asked if commissioners are to blame for any of the painful decisions now facing residents, he added: “The council is running Birmingham, not me. Our job (as commissioners) is to help the council take good decisions, get it right and deliver them. If we (commissioners) put ourselves in the place (of going out and meeting residents, visiting community groups, understanding their needs and wants), there is no space for the council. It has to do its job.” It is ‘not my job’ to be out speaking to residents, he adds.

Read the full Max Caller interview here.