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Who gets your vote: Failed salsa dancer or Take That fan?

At Birmingham Mail debate West Midlands Mayor candidates reveal their showbiz ambitions and city ccouncillors are in a funny mood

Amid the usual heated disagreements, the trotting out of policies and sound bites, there was room for some levity at the West Midlands mayoral candidates’ debate this week.

The candidates were clearly caught out by host Kevin Johnson’s questions about their artistic interests. Who knew Tory Andy Street was a failed salsa dancer, that while we see Labour candidate Sion Simon the man himself sees Humphrey Bogart and that UKIP’s Pete Durnell knows his Take That?

But another killer question from the floor – which of your own party’s policies do you disagree with? – had Mr Durnell and Lib Dem Beverley Nielsen stumped, or unable to risk an answer and they found themselves almost wholeheartedly in agreement with their parties.

Poor Pete forgot that in the Black Country debate he had already rejected UKIP’s policy of nationalising the M6 Toll Road.

Both Mr Simon and Mr Street turned it into an ‘us vs London’ issue as they highlighted powers and funds they would like to wrestle from colleagues in London and bring to the West Midlands.

But Green James Burn had us in stitches with a little insight into the inner workings of the Green Party.

A recent conference, he explained, had seen activists wanting to take action to prevent abuse and cruelty to animals – a very laudable aim and nothing a right-thinking person could disagree with.

Their solution was a national pet ownership register to keep an eye on who owns what.

But Mr Burn said that on occasions like these he is left “rolling his eyes”.

He explained that once you have a register, it then has to be checked – and like children would require social workers to ensure animals are being well treated. Luckily the party listened and the idea was dropped.

At least that’s one thing we know we won’t be getting from this candidate: social workers for cats.

Clancy reveals his own foreign currency dealings

Globe trotting cllr John Clancy with Sheikh Faisal bin Qassim Al Thani during Birmingham's trade mission to Qatar

The April meeting of Birmingham City Council is always a rowdy affair and this week’s was no different.

That’s because there is an election looming and there are bids for headlines or a killer question and quote which could headline a leaflet saying how the Tories have spoiled this, how Labour are refusing to pay for that or how the Lib Dems could make it all better.

Tenacious Tory backbencher Meirion Jenkins (Four Oaks) has finally got a straight answer to an ongoing line of questioning about the council’s archaic foreign exchange arrangements.

Apparently staff going on a jaunt abroad are given a foreign currency allowance of up to £50 per day to cover costs of taxis, light snacks and so on. Receipts are required and any unspent money should be returned.

Cllr Jenkins suggested that surely a more efficient way is for staff, who are generally senior officers and councillors, to spend their own money, get a receipt and claim it back as most companies do.

Cllr John Clancy, who since becoming leader 16 months ago has enjoyed trips to China , Qatar and Cannes, found he was given currency before he went.

“To be brutally frank I very rarely use it and tend to hand the envelope back with the money mostly in tact,” he told us.

He conceded it is a rather odd way of doing things, probably a result of custom and practice, and perhaps could do with looking at again.

Labour cabinet member for bins Lisa Trickett also seemed to take an obscure tangent when facing an onslaught over the debacle of failing refuse collections. She had been left waiting for an unfulfilled delivery from department store John Lewis.

The Labour benches seemed to find it all rather amusing as the company was until recently run by Tory mayoral candidate Mr Street .

The suggestion was that it’s not just Labour run councils who cock up on customer services, Tory-run businesses do it, too.

And whenever Labour roads boss Stewart Stacey stands up there is always a nervous moment as people on all sides prepare to be astounded, amused, confused or angered by whatever pours forth. He certainly never plays it safe and predictable.

This time, after receiving several dozen petitions calling for churned up grass verges in Hall Green (there’s a tight by-election there) to be restored and protected, he just blurted out that there would be a £1 million city-wide fund set up to fix verges. Yes, that’s right £1 MILLION.

The money was presumably just resting in the cash-strapped council’s account looking for someone to find something to spend it on.

Queue consternation from the Tory benches who, having proposed such a fund three months ago found it annoying their policy had been nicked, while treading very close to what is allowed during an election campaign period.

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