It was heralded as a great step forward for local government openness and empowerment for citizens looking to get to grips with the grime on their streets and neighbourhoods.
But not all Birmingham City councillors are happy with the ward-by-ward breakdowns of litter, fly-posting and graffiti rates published this week. The chart gave most of the city’s 40 wards a red or green mark to show whether they had achieved the cleanliness targets set by the powers that be.
It was expected that a few proud individuals might complain that their areas are being unfairly maligned in the figures – perhaps a well-heeled area grumbling that they were being shown to have a graffiti problem and the impact it might have on house prices.
But it was quite unexpected to hear some complain that their areas have not been rated badly enough – that the streets are dirtier and more blighted than the stats suggest.
Most vocal among these behind the scenes at this week’s full council meeting was Coun Victoria Quinn, outraged that her Sparkbrook ward appears, according to the chart, to have less of a litter problem than many other areas like Handsworth Wood, Perry Barr, Longbridge and Tyburn (AKA Castle Vale and Pype Hayes).
Its rating of 8.57 per cent litter (out of 70 sites surveyed) means Sparkbrook is only marginally less clean than Kings Norton and Quinton – areas not normally associated with massive grime problems.
There is, I am told, similar outrage in Aston where the mark was an incredibly low 5.71 per cent – on the fringe of a green mark and almost as clean as Selly Oak and Sutton Trinity wards.
The problem is not that the councillors concerned are complaining their streets are not dirty enough – they simply do not believe the figures reflect the reality their residents face on a daily basis.
There are two fears around this.
First, that the figures are discredited and derided if an area gets a green mark, but residents are walking past walls daubed with graffiti and fences plastered with bill posters while they step over takeaway wrappers. The council would be accused of massaging the figures to make the city look good on paper.
Secondly, and much more worrying for community leaders, is the concern that areas wrongly rated as clean will find themselves down the pecking order when it comes to street sweeping and other grime-busting resources.
It was on this issue that it dawned on many in the Council Chamber that the honeymoon period for fledgling council leader John Clancy is drawing to a close.
Opposition leaders have tended to go easy during the first couple of months of Clancy’s tenure. They are probably just delighted to be kept in the loop by the new leader following years of being cut out.
Councillor Clancy was still counting the days since he became leader (62) and totting up the number of cabinet ministers he has had tea with (four) when opposition leaders were squaring up for his first challenging questions.
Lib Dem leader Jon Hunt (just two days into the role) complained that while it was all well and good publishing details of how grotty Birmingham’s streets are, but what is he going to do about it.
Tory leader Robert Alden (32 months in post) then suggested that ward councillors are given a community fund to pay for cleaning.
Coun Clancy’s reply was that the information is a starting point, that funding is tight and that there now needs to be conversations with communities, councillors etc to sort out some sort of action.
What became clear is that he does not have the answers, but with elections looming, he will need to find them sooner rather than later.
Councillor for Europe
Meanwhile, his predecessor Sir Albert Bore showed why he is sometimes called the ‘councillor for Europe’ and earned himself a comparison with Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn.
A long-standing member of the European Committee for the Regions, a policy talking-shop for the continent’s leading local government figures, Sir Albert has perspective which is unique in Birmingham Council Chamber.
And so, after keeping a low profile in recent weeks, it was perhaps hardly surprising that he chose the debate on the merits or otherwise of the TTIP Europe-US trade deal and how it might affect local government to remind people that he is still very much around the place.
The Labour motion, proposed by Coun Martin Straker-Welds (Moseley and Kings Heath), demanded that Government and European Union leaders lift the shroud of secrecy around the deal.
But Sir Albert rose from his seat to become the most passionate speaker against his party’s motion. He effectively told colleagues councils do not really need to know what is going on and they should trust his friends in Europe.
No wonder Tory Peter Douglas Osborn, who rose to speak next, said: “This august body now has a competitor for Hilary Benn”, whose passionate support of air strikes on Syria, against the majority of his own party, went down so well.