As the council leadership battle enters its sixteenth week, we have heard much from the councillors and MPs on what should happen – and, indeed, much from the Government overseers on what is expected of Britain’s largest local authority.
But there hasn’t been a great deal from the little people in all this.
That may change at the various public hustings next week (although we fully expect these to be dominated by the same interest groups, ie the pro-library group, the anti-austerity group and the anti-academy group), who attend public meetings all the time and whose views are very widely known among our political elite.
What we will get is a chance to see and compare the five politicians who hope to lead the city share a platform although our opinions will matter little in the end.
I am reliably told by councillors that some very important stuff, such as the organisation’s culture, the Kerslake panel, child protection and the combined authority are rarely if ever raised on the doorsteps.
But what does come up repeatedly is the bins, the libraries and leisure centres, housing and planning and, of course, the potholes and traffic jams.
It is the latter that certainly seems to be causing much consternation for the thousands battling their way through rush hour every day.
This week a report found that the number of people spending three hours or more a day commuting had doubled since 2004. This will not be news to anyone who travels in and out of the city centre or our motorway network.
And, so far, the council’s response has been a 20-year Birmingham Connected ‘vision’ document, which means that by 2035 we might have the slick transport system fit for purpose in 2015. A lot of this is also pinned to spin-offs from the high speed rail link, so we will be waiting until the mid-2020s to see any benefit.
It has taken more than ten years to plan, plus almost five years to build a few hundred yards of Metro extension through the city centre – so we won’t see any benefit soon.
In the ‘plus’ column we do have some nice new WiFi enabled ‘platinum’ buses on the roads, a shiny new rail station (but no extra trains) and some much improved canal towpaths to cycle along – but the impact of these is only ever going to be marginal.
What the new leader, working with their colleagues across the region and contractors like Amey, needs to figure out is a way of either getting large numbers of people out of their cars, or getting those cars moving within weeks – not by the time the first high speed train rolls out of Curzon Street.
And it is on these matters that the little people will be able to pass judgement when they finally get their say next May.
Now is the time to re-structure
Local Government structures are generally only of interest to political anoraks and academics but changes afoot in Birmingham could have far-reaching consequences for the way this city is run and the way vital public services are delivered in future.
With moves towards a regional greater Birmingham authority led by a Boris Johnson-style metro mayor, the development of a parish council in Sutton Coldfield and council boundary changes, it is likely the political landscape of Birmingham is going to alter dramatically over the next couple of years.
And now we have Sutton Coldfield MP Andrew Mitchell’s ideas for the break-up of Birmingham City Council, which are, on the surface, a bit out kilter with conventional thinking on the issue.
Certainly, it would only provide the Town Hall rich list compilers with more ammunition if we were to replace one £180,000 a year chief executive ten of them.
And last year government troubleshooter Bob Kerslake seemed to rule it out saying that the council was capable of improvement without the need to break it up (though Ofsted thought its size contributed to child protection failures).
But there are is a lot to recommend the Mitchell plan, although perhaps three or four districts might be a more appropriate level – a size more in line with neighbouring councils. Especially if we have a regional body taking over the really big stuff like transport, health services and economic growth.
While so much else is being restructured, devolved and revised, now is the time to take a serious look at the future size and shape Birmingham City Council.Coun Quinn (aka Mrs Bore) keeping quiet on leadership
Candidate John Clancy appears to be winning the publicity battle and seems to have a very well-orchestrated campaign as a series of seven councillors publicly declared their support to him early on Wednesday, November 11.
Few, if any, of those endorsements will have been a surprise – although cabinet members Tahir Ali and Shafique Shah will likely be new to the Clancy cause.
The others claim their support is strong in the background and point out it is a secret ballot, so loyalty is far from guaranteed, especially as some councillors are saying yes to all. But word has reached me that at least one floating voter has never had a personal campaign call from Coun Clancy – Sparkbrook councillor Victoria Quinn. Clancy likely assumed she would in the past have back her husband – outgoing leader, Sir Albert Bore – and so was unlikely to come over to his side now.
But a Labour source says Coun Quinn is annoyed at the assumption she is incapable of making her mind up for herself. In a similar way she has become wary of even whispering support for any candidate at all in case others read into it as an endorsement from Sir Albert.