Nobody can justifiably accuse Birmingham City Council of failing to make the most of the Conservative Party conference.
Very few of Britain’s local authorities enjoy the privilege of having the Government camped on their doorstep for four days and it is therefore important to make the most of the opportunities offered by the presence of Ministers.
This is particularly so when the political party leading the council and in charge of the country are one and the same.
The council’s presence was embedded throughout the ICC, led by the irrepressible, passionate Tory city leader Mike Whitby, who even went to the length of spending money on a room at the Hyatt Hotel so that he could be on call 24 hours a day should an audience with the Prime Minister and leading cabinet members materialise.
Coun Whitby’s agenda was clear enough: to put Birmingham’s case for high speed rail, Local Enterprise Partnerships, Accelerated Development Zones and, of course, attempt to persuade Ministers to tone down the harsh public spending cuts expected to be announced in the Comprehensive Spending Review on October 20.
Only time will tell whether he has succeeded in achieving any of his aims, but one thing is certain. Not only must Birmingham contend with the tightest public spending settlement in modern times, the city also faces a Communities Secretary who has scant regard for local government.
It should come as no great surprise that Eric Pickles was one of the first cabinet members to have his department’s budget reductions approved by the Treasury, enabling him to join the Government’s Star Chamber group responsible for overseeing the cuts programme.
For Mr Pickles, judging by his behaviour at the conference, has pretty low regard for most councils regardless of political colour.
In a speech at the city council’s conference welcome party, he appeared to be relishing the prospect of slashing local authority budgets.
He looked Coun Whitby in the eye and told him: “I am pleased to hear that you are expecting a difficult settlement, and I think we can deliver that for you. I can promise you a lot less money.”
And just to hammer the message home, Mr Pickles, gazing at the city’s great and good tucking into a seemingly never-ending supply of canapes and drinks, said: "This time next year you will be eating beans on sticks”.
An obvious question to ask about Mr Pickles is whether his comments are all for show? Does he mean it when he hints at dismantling local authorities, passing their powers to the private sector and business leaders, or is this chiefly posturing for the Tory right-wing for whom he is something of a cult figure.
He popped up at a Birmingham Chamber of Commerce fringe meeting, leaving members in a state of mild shock following comments such as “council planning departments are a cross between the last bastion of communism and sheer bloody mindedness”, and a surprising literary flourish with “governments do to businesses what Philip Larkin said his parents did to him”.
As for the Birmingham-Solihull LEP proposal, Mr Pickles said he favoured Local Enterprise Partnership applications where it was clear that the proposed organisation would be driven by local businesses and would not simply be a matter of several councils coming together. Quite a few people in the room shuffled their feet nervously at this point.
Ironically, the one firm Government pledge likely to be given to Birmingham following the Tory conference is exactly something that Coun Whitby didn’t campaign for and didn’t want to hear.
The city will have a directly elected mayor, even if that means holding a confirmatory referendum after the winning candidate is in place.
It is probably the sort of thing that Mr Pickles would approve of, even more so if the Mayor of Birmingham turned out to be a dynamic business leader rather than a party politician.