Two of the more seasoned politicians in Birmingham appear to have fallen out with party colleagues and ruled themselves out of next year’s local elections.
Conservative councillor Alan Rudge will not be contesting the Sutton Vesey seat he has held since 1982, because, according to his local party, he was not willing to make campaigning commitments.
Meanwhile in South Yardley sitting Lib Dem David Willis has, I am told, had a major break up with the area’s MP John Hemming and been cold shouldered by sections of the local party.
His removal has cleared the way for former Justice Party member turned Lib Dem councillor Zaker Choudhry to attempt a return to the council chamber after being selected as official party candidate.
There are certain similarities with both seats in that a few years ago they seemed impregnable – every Sutton Coldfield seat was shoe-in for the Tories, and Yardley has been steadfastly Lib Dem yellow for many years.
But since the formation of the 2010 Coalition Government people in both areas have started returning Labour candidates.
Last year the voters of Sutton Vesey voted for the Royal Borough’s first ever Labour councillor, Dr Rob Pocock, something that was previously unthinkable.
It sent shockwaves through local Conservatives, many of who conceded they had taken the ward a little for granted, while Dr Rob piled residents wastepaper bins high with leaflets, surveys, pamphlets and petitions. A decade of losses had finally delivered victory.
A campaign strategy was born, but it appears Coun Rudge, the lawyer who spent eight years as cabinet member for equalities and human resources, refused to sign up.
He did not attend the council’s annual meeting so I have no direct confirmation whether there is bad blood, or if after 31 years, he has simply decided to retire.
The Sutton Coldfield Conservative Association has selected Dr Andrew Hardie, a Parliamentary candidate in West Bromwich West in 2010, to contest the 2014 local election and is out and about making himself known to the voters.
The association spokesman added that ‘quite simply’ the Party has certain commitments and procedures and that Coun Rudge ‘chose not to comply with them’.
It is an odd statement as the usual form is to thank the councillor for years of service.
The voters of South Yardley meanwhile have rejected the Lib Dems for two years running voting instead for Nawaz Ali in 2011 and Zafar Iqbal last time out.
Coun David Willis was a former Labour Party activist in Shard End before switching to the Lib Dems and then securing the South Yardley seat in 2010.
He is on the left of the Lib Dems, has not always towed the party line and perhaps been a little critical of the Coalition Government - particularly over benefit cuts, as well as Mr Hemming’s support for them. People say they have not had a civil word in months and thus Coun Willis refused to go for selection against Mr Hemming’s preferred candidate. I understand there were overtures from the Labour group urging him to join them, but he has refused. It is not as if they can offer him candidacy as the seat has been earmarked by Labour for an all-woman shortlist.
He may yet decide to stand as an independent – but no one is sure whether he will do more damage to the Lib Dem or Labour candidate. These bitter selection disputes have tended to dominate the Labour Party in recent years, but as Lib Dems and Tories become more endangered in Birmingham, all parties have become infected.
Questions continue to be raised over just how much the city council’s deal with Service Birmingham is providing value for money for the taxpayer.
This week there has been the revelation that SB, as it is known in certain quarters, charged Civic Catering £7,000 for one computer, which the organisation did not want or need.
Questions are also being asked over how it can charge £610,000 for IT support and image storage for ten bus lane enforcement cameras which only cost £470,000 to set up and install.
Especially as other councils can install and run traffic enforcement camera systems for around £300,000.
Historically there have been a string of concerns over the money charged to the taxpayer by SB – from the £4 per telephone call answered, to the website costs went increased exponentially every time a change was made and the additon of £35 per invoice charges for BID levies.
Last year a review of the contract found it had saved the council money. But much of those savings have come through modernisation – closing old offices, switching from face-to-face advice and information at a network of neighbourhood offices and libraries, to call centre/website services. Every business looking to cut costs has done this make substantial savings.
Meanwhile, on the IT side the costs are rising at a rate which is making an increasing number of councillors very uncomfortable as they try to justify cuts to their electorate.
The review of care services has come up with yet another term for over 60s – ‘older adults’. Previously we been told that OAP, pensioners, old folks etc are patronising , and now it appears senior citizens and elderly have fallen out of favour.
Surely any of these is preferable to the hoplessly bureaucratic, jargonistic, politically inept nonsense of ‘older adults’.