Two years ago as he looked back over eight years of city council leadership, I asked Councillor Lord Michael Whitby where he saw the future of the Birmingham Conservative group in opposition.

At the time Mike, as he was then known, talked about the crop of Tory politicians and singled out two Sutton Coldfield councillors for who he predicted great things – his then deputy leader Philip Parkin and James Bird, who he was set to appoint to the shadow cabinet.

He described them as councillors of great ability and talent and predicted that they, along with colleagues like Robert Alden and Timothy Huxtable, would be on the Tory front bench for years to come.

And they would be in position when the Tories returned to power in the Council House – however long that might take.

Despite this ringing endorsement and the comfort of safe seats the Sutton Coldfield duo have given up on Birmingham City Council.

Both have in their own way decided that they can no longer commit the time and energy required of a councillor.

Coun Bird, who has been an effective opposition education spokesman in both the scrutiny committee and Council Chamber, has found he is spending more and more time away from Birmingham through work. But he is fully expected to pick up the political career elsewhere.

Coun Parkin, too, has cited the difficulty of running a family business, as well as developing his other interests while remaining a City Councillor. He is widely respected on all sides. He chaired a scrutiny committee and was among the first Birmingham councillors to use social media.

Now Mr Parkin, he explained that there have been several factors which added up to his decision to give up the seat two years early.

The frustration of opposition has played a part, as has the city’s rejection of a directly elected mayor – something for which Coun Parkin was a passionate advocate.

But both councillors have also mentioned the political system in Birmingham and particularly the weekday public meetings which suit the career politicians, retired councillors and most importantly the professional officers, but not those councillors with jobs or the general public.

This narrows the field from which councillors can be drawn and although generous by local government standards, the £16,267 basic allowance, does not replace a professional income.

Council wards in Birmingham are also huge with an average of about 27,000 people in each – much larger than other parts of the country – giving councillors, particularly those representing deprived areas, huge workloads.

We frequently comment on diversity of race and gender among our elected members, but what about diversity of age, background and experience?

Being a local councillor is and should be a vocation in many respects, but it is worrying if very able individuals like Parkin and Bird are leaving because the role is incompatible with an ongoing career.


During the last municipal year two serving councillors have resigned their seats early and they seemingly have nothing in common. One was Labour’s Catharine Grundy, the other Conservative Philip Parkin.

The only link they have is that they were both members of the ridiculously over-named Partnership, Contracts, Performance and Third Sector overview and scrutiny committee.

What has committee chairman Coun Majid Mahmood said to upset them?


The ability of bureaucrats and civil servants to mangle our mother tongue and replace plain English with jargon never ceases to amaze me.

But now transport officials have excelled themselves by claiming two commonly used words ‘limit’ and ‘zone’ as their own.

These are people I’m told who used to have ‘roundabout’ in their office with staff moving clockwise around it as they went about their business.

Following coverage of the plans to cut speed limits to 20mph on residential streets, several people have berated our reporting for ‘getting it wrong’ in describing vast areas city streets with 20mph limits as zones.

It seems that in transport planning circles the word ‘20mph zone’ refers to an area with bollards, chicanes and sleeping policemen to enforce lower speeds.

A ‘20mph limit’, which is what Birmingham City Council is looking at involves painting 20mph on the road and relying on the two-thirds to three-quarters of motorists who obey speed limits to do so. So similar to the existing 30mph.

For these transport planning trainspotters these words have definite meanings.

But I hate to be the one to tell them that the words ‘limit’ and ‘zone’ have been around a lot longer than their transport planning documents.