When Labour took control of Birmingham City Council after very successful local elections in 2011 and 2012, many assumed they were set comfortably for the long haul.
The election by thirds cycle comes to a close next month.
But there is growing anxiety in the Labour ranks that the gains of those two bumper years, in which Lib Dems were vanquished in their Yardley heartland and Tories conceded ground in the south of the city, are far from a nailed on certainty.
The loss of Kingstanding ward to Tory Gary Sambrook in the February by-election, the unknown UKIP and European election factor, the recent post-Budget poll boost for Conservatives and the impact of the new garden waste charges, have given some in Labour ranks cause for concern.
They are already talking down the likelihood of making the huge gains of two years ago, while their opponents seem reinvigorated ahead of the May 22 election.
Labour will remain in control of Birmingham next month, but there is a growing view that maintaining the 77 seats out of 120 will be a good result.
Three or four gains would see them jumping for joy and, as well as seeing Labour gain a couple more paid posts on regional authorities (useful jobs to offer antsy backbenchers), probably ensure that Sir Albert Bore retains his leadership.
He will face his annual challenge from Coun John Clancy, who took 23 votes out of the 77 available last year. The Clancy camp say 30 votes would weaken Sir Albert and plunge his leadership into crisis. But this is wishful thinking, especially as Sir Albert has led on much more slender margins in the past.
One councillor said: “I would rather have a person with a proven track record at a time of cuts.”
They would rather see Sir Albert’s broad shoulders take the flack while council services were being cut and facilities closed or sold off.
A third challenger might throw the numbers out. But senior figures, such as deputy leader Ian Ward and head of scrutiny Carl Rice, are showing no signs of wanting the top job this side of the general election. What is more likely is that Sir Albert may be put under pressure to make changes to his Cabinet – both in composition and structure.
There has been much talk of the lack of women and ethnic minority councillors at the top table – and the likes of councillors Penny Holbrook, Lisa Trickett and Majid Mahmood are among those in the queue for top jobs.
The Cabinet was set up with a mayoral system in mind, with responsibilities divided by policy themes such as social cohesion or green issues, rather than running departments.
There is a huge imbalance in workloads. Deputy Ian Ward and cabinet member for children Brigid Jones seem to be busiest – I understand that the deputy leader’s role was the only one recommended for an increased allowance by the council’s Independent Remuneration Panel. Two deputy leaders is something which is being talked about, while the responsibilities of the ten district committees still need much clarification.
Much of this will depend heavily on what happens on May 22.
An attempt to make council cabinet members more directly answerable to the whole council – rather than a select few members of a scrutiny committee – was defeated without comment at last week’s full council meeting.
Councillor Deirdre Alden put forward the proposal to bring back the annual or six-monthly cabinet reports to an already congested City Council timetable.
These routine cabinet member’s reports were scrapped two years ago because they were simply used by the top ten councillors to boast how wonderful they were and what great work their department was doing.
There was very little, if any, scrutiny or challenge.
This has partly been replaced with 20 minutes of cabinet members’ question time, but even then it is all over too quickly and there are far more questions than time for answers.
Since so much of the council structure now mirrors Parliament, Coun Ian Cruise (Lab, Longbridge) has suggested that the powers that be might consider a dedicated cabinet member’s questions - perhaps lasting 45 minutes or an hour – at a different time of the week or month.
This would make more use of the council chamber and allow a focus on the performance of a single cabinet member, department, service area or issue.
It would also not add any more time to the five-hour monthly meeting which already struggles to fit everything in.