Birmingham’s Tory chief and newly named Lord Whitby has expressed his amazement that council leader Sir Albert Bore did not attend the opening of the city’s new library.

The former council leader has also accused his Labour successor of letting the city down with a constant narrative of negativity around his ‘Jaws of Doom’ and ‘end of local government as we know it’ quotes.

Lord Whitby said he was amazed that the leader of Birmingham City Council flew off to a climate change conference in Lithuania rather than attend the unveiling of the largest public library in Europe.

He said: “The opening day has been known for some considerable time. This was a red letter day in the recent history of this city, a day of international significance as evidenced by the range of media from all over Europe and the world.”

He said that while Sir Albert’s deputy Ian Ward handled the opening event and media circus ‘very well indeed’, it was a role the leader should have fulfilled.

“That this city has invested in a library and a theatre in such a big way was a symbol for arts and culture organisations throughout the UK who are facing financial challenges. It shows that Birmingham, as a city, places a value on culture and learning.

“I find it amazing that Sir Albert has failed to understand the significance of this and must question his judgement.”

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Some have speculated that Sir Albert’s decision to attend the European Committee of the Regions conference was a ‘tactical snub’ to the library, as he had a decade ago supported a different library plan at Eastside.

Sir Albert’s press office said that the conference has been in the diary since last year and that Coun Ward is directly responsible for the library and the most appropriate councillor for the grand opening.

Lord Whitby also said that he was increasingly worried by the rhetoric from the council leadership.

He said: “We need to be positive. If somebody is scouting 12 cities in the world for a location for a new HQ, this could make all the difference.

Mike Whitby and the Library Of Birmingham
Mike Whitby and the Library Of Birmingham in 2012
 

“With the library, and New Street coming through, Birmingham has been getting unbelievable coverage, but the brand is fragile and it needs to be nurtured. But instead we have a narrative dominated by doom and gloom.

“We know there are financial challenges, but the Government’s financial settlement is only a small part of the funding Birmingham gets.

“Other city leaders manage that challenge and at the same time talk to the world about how confident their cities are.”

Lord Whitby said that he plans to use his new role in the House of Lords to promote Birmingham. “I want to challenge the prejudicial views some have of Birmingham. I have found that there are a lot of ill-informed views about our city that seem to have been held in perpetuity.”

He said he will focus on regeneration, big cities and push the Heseltine devolution and local government agenda a little further.

And he has been pleased at the welcome and positive messages he has received from fellow Birmingham peers including former union boss Lord Bill Morris of Handsworth and Lord Philip Hunt of Kings Heath. Lord Whitby will have his own title fully confirmed in the next couple of weeks, well ahead of his ennoblement ceremony on October 16.

Meanwhile, he will continue as leader of the opposition Tory group and city councillor for Harborne until he has established the demands of his new role.

Councillor Sir Albert Bore, Leader of Birmingham City Council
Councillor Sir Albert Bore, Leader of Birmingham City Council
 

“I will talk to my Conservative colleagues about my future role.

“I have not made my mind up, but should I step down there are many very able people to come forward. I have an excellent deputy in Bobby Alden who has really flourished in the role, there are elder statesmen in Randall Brew and Anne Underwood and many more very talented people; Timothy Huxtable, Philip Parkin, Adrian Delaney and of course the redoubtable Deirdre Alden.”

A spokesman for Birmingham’s council leader explained Sir Albert’s absence.

She said: “The engagement has been diaried since late 2012 and was one reason why, recently, Sir Albert met here in Birmingham with the Lithuanian Ambassador to the UK and the Lithuanian Consular representative.

“His deputy, Coun Ian Ward, has been involved in a number of promotional activities in the August run-up to the opening, whilst Sir Albert has been on holiday, and is a member of the new Library of Birmingham Strategic Board.

“It has therefore, been quite appropriate for the Deputy Leader to represent Birmingham City Council at the opening of the new Library of Birmingham, in Sir Albert’s absence.”