One of the key questions from those cynical about Birmingham’s Commonwealth Games bid is how will we pay for it?
Three quarters of the funds will come from central government and the rest from local sources.
Birmingham has been quiet about finances but Liverpool says its local contribution will be in the region of
£137 million so we will assume our costs are of a similar order.
A number of existing projects, such as improved transport links along the A34 Walsall Road near Alexander Stadium, could be brought forward and contribute to these costs, as could the building of new houses at Perry Barr to form an athletes’ village.
Further funding is also expected from the regional West Midlands Combined Authority and business development group the Greater Birmingham And Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership (which part funded a feasibility study into the bid ).
So against this backdrop we also have a city council which is recovering from last year’s £49 million budget overspend and is embroiled in a bins dispute.
Incidentally, angry tweeters, please explain how cancelling the Commonwealth Games bid will get your bins emptied quicker...
The fallout from that budget debacle contributed to a major overhaul of personnel at the top of Britain’s largest local authority.
Chief executive Mark Rogers and other senior staff have left in the wake of that funding crisis and following a scathing report from the Government watchdog the Birmingham Independent Improvement Panel.
Whatever the council says, the new interim management are widely seen as a government takeover in all but name – and they are certainly making their presence felt.
But interim chief finance officer Mike O’Donnell has already dropped a clanger over how they will pay for the Commonwealth Games bid.
It is suggested that businesses could pay a one-off supplementary levy to their rates to contribute to the local funding for the Games.
After all, it is argued that a wide range of firms will benefit, for example, hotels, restaurants and bars will be rammed, there will be contracts for work on the venues and houses, and leisure businesses will host training camps.
And the wider business community will benefit from upgraded transport links.
The plan was unveiled in private meetings of councillors, but details of an exchange at the Labour group have now emerged in an email circulated to Labour members.
Cllr John Cotton, a former cabinet member, suggested that such a business rate supplement would need a ballot of businesses – but he was assured it would not.
So he checked and found that according to the Localism Act (2011) a vote of businesses was required.
The email reply from Mr O’Donnell confirms that the information they were working from was ‘out of date’ and he apologised to Labour members for the mistake.
He adds that the proposal was not set in stone and always required further detailed work. For those who fear that this could scupper a bid, there is, of course, wide precedence for businesses voting for tax increases.
Birmingham has about a dozen Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) where firms have voted to pay more because they see direct benefit from the additional services the BIDs provide. All the Games bid committee needs do is convince the business community that this Games is good for them.
As the bins crisis rumbles on one councillor has revealed that her nosy neighbours seem to have taken to poking around her wheelie bin. Penny Holbrook (Lab, Stockland Green) told colleagues: “Certainly my neighbours are checking that I don’t get a better service than anyone else by personally walking down the street and having a look in my wheelie bin. I can confirm I’m not.”
One down, many, many more to go
More from the trenches of the Birmingham Labour council selection war. The first significant skirmish has seen controversial councillor Waseem Zaffar win the right to stand for election in the new Lozells ward in 2018.
It marks an upturn in fortunes for Cllr Zaffar who suffered the humiliation of resigning from his cabinet post earlier this year following unguarded and incorrect comments on a local primary school’s hijab ban.
Even in the jumbled up world of inner city Labour political in-fighting, Cllr Zaffar, an ally of council leader John Clancy, manages to attract a huge number of enemies and was top of many rivals hit lists.
Cllr Zaffar was first elected in 2011 after overturning established councillor Mahmood Hussain.
He then secured his re-selection in 2015 without a vote of members, his candidacy was imposed by Labour bosses in controversial circumstances . Once a protégé of Perry Barr MP Khalid Mahmood, the pair have fallen out in recent years.
In fact, it was Mr Mahmood’s friend and former election agent Mohammed Hanif who hoped to unseat Cllr Zaffar, but fell short in the meeting of Lozells Labour members.
Cllr Zaffar secured 89 votes to Mr Hanif’s 41. A third candidate got five votes.
One selection down, several dozen to go.
It's the battle we all want to see
As well as Birmingham council seats, Labour is also looking to select candidates for winnable parliamentary seats early in case there is another snap election. Among them is Walsall North which last month saw Eddie Hughes become the first Tory MP since the mid-1970s. His slender 2,601 majority makes this a must win for Labour if they want to see Corbyn in Number 10.
So potential candidates are now lining up and I sincerely hope one of them is Kingstanding Labour councillor Des Hughes in a bid to unseat Eddie... his younger brother .