It would seem, on the face of it, that politics in Birmingham has cleaned itself up after it was revealed that the independent standards committee has not even met this year.
The official body set up to investigate claims of misconduct against elected councillors has basically decided that everyone is behaving well – filling in their statutory register of interests, declaring any gifts and hospitality and not abusing their position for gain or using taxpayers money to promote themselves.
A report to the Council Business Management Committee also revealed that the Standards Committee has, since last April, looked into 16 complaints against councillors – 11 from members of the public, four from other councillors and one anonymous. Of those 14 were against Labour members and two against Lib Dems.
Some other complaints did not even get this far, being dismissed at the outset as not a code of conduct matter.
Of those which got through to the committee, none were upheld – no one had breached the Councillors Code of Conduct.
The complaints being dealt with by the standards process have dropped considerably.
The reason for this was that the old regime was frequently abused and clogged up with complaints designed to extract maximum political advantage – basically councillors or candidates from one political party would complain about a rival in the hope that they could then advertise that rival’s shame on an election campaign leaflet.
Over the years there have been dozens of such complaints – often for offences such as stuffing political campaign letter in the same envelope as a council letter, or using the office photocopier for political activity, blurring the line between the party political and council business.
Occasionally one or two made inaccurate or offensive claims about a rival in their election material.
As local elections approach, it is unlikely that these complaints have subsided – instead it looks like the political parties have taken a more grown-up approach.
Certainly around polling day last time the local press were inundated with calls about this candidate or that councillor getting up to no good – most were either so minor or so obviously vexatious that they were ignored.
All councillor against councillor complaints are now passed to Group Secretaries at the first stage for mediation, meaning that many either result in a quiet word, a stiff talking to or a refresher course on the code of conduct.
Such has been the drop-off in business that the Standards Committee is in danger of becoming a ghost regime – the chairman was not even required to present his report.
But there was a small blow for accountability with Lib Dem group secretary Mike Ward insisting that the report was published on the full council agenda.
“My group would be horrified that the report has been downgraded,” he said. “But having said that, if the chairman of the standards committee did attend the meeting I would have no questions for him.”
We are all familiar with the acronym nimby – not in my back yard – and its use to describe those who are happy to benefit from power stations, motorways, high speed rail lines, rubbish tips, sewerage works and the like as long as these things don’t spoil views from their conservatory windows.
But now there is an opposite to this – the jimby, which stands for ‘just in my back yard’.
Members of the transport scrutiny committee were introduced to the jimby during a presentation on the new 20mph. It seems the acronym was created in Bristol when 20mph limits were being talked about there.
Apparently people are keen to see 20mph limits around their homes, in roads where their own kids play and walk to school, but do not like the idea of keeping their speed down when travelling further afield.
It is known Conservatives are more likely to favour fox hunting than members of other parties, so it came as little surprise when Councillor Peter Douglas Osborn said he had recently got hold of a relative of Basil Brush. But this was not a weekend hobby, just a councillor going above and beyond the call to help a constituent.
He rode to the rescue of retired Mrs Gina Berrill of Selly Oak after she complained of being given the brush off by the city council’s call centre when she requested help with the dead fox on her lawn.
Apparently they will pick up the dead animal in the street, but a carcass on your property is your problem. Mrs Berrill was annoyed that the call centre drone offered no advice on who to call instead – except perhaps her local councillor.
With it being his election year, Coun Douglas Osborn leapt into action, and was there within the day and deposited the bagged up beast and took it away.