City council leader Sir Albert Bore has pledged a radical overhaul of local democracy in Birmingham which could lead to more powers being handed to smaller areas.

As Europe's largest local authority, representing more than one million people, it has frequently been claimed Birmingham is too large and that a monolithic administration cannot serve such a wide and diverse area effectively.

A review group will now consider how far powers and responsibilities for local services can be pushed down to local levels before coming up with concrete proposals.

Last year, Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw, commenting on the "national disgrace" of persistent failure by Birmingham children's social services, suggested the authority needed breaking up into three or four smaller areas.

Others have claimed Birmingham needs to be organised more like Greater Manchester where a group of smaller local authorities work closely together.

It now appears that proposals like these will seriously be considered by a city council review group which will meet over the next few months, starting on July 16.

Although the city of Birmingham will not be formally broken up under this process, a wide range of services and powers, from planning to refuse collection could be handed down to districts or groups of districts.

The announcement comes almost a year after campaigners in Sutton Coldfield raised a 10,000-name petition demanding their own town council - with powers handed down from Birmingham city centre.

But rather than deal with the Sutton Coldfield question on its own, Sir Albert and senior councillors have decided to look at a devolution deal which could be rolled out across the city.

He has privately suggested the review looks at the "arrondissements" into which major French cities are divided.

Coun Bore (Ladywood) said: "We welcome the interest in new democratic arrangements from campaigners in Sutton Coldfield and we will now fully evaluate their proposals in line with the legal requirements.

"But Sutton Coldfield is not an island, it is an important part of the city of Birmingham, so any changes we make there will have implications for the rest of the city.

"I believe, along with my Conservative and Lib Dem colleagues, that people right across the city are keen to have more influence over their local services and more control over their local neighbourhood.

"So we have decided that we should be much more radical and take this opportunity to have a wider look at how we organise democracy in the city at the most local level."

Moves towards devolution began in 2000 when Sir Adrian Cadbury's Democracy Commission suggested bringing local government closer to the communities it serves.

And, despite some progress on this, many still suggest that the current district committees, with their purse strings rigidly controlled from the centre, have autonomy over key services in name only.

The Sutton Coldfield campaigners have seen a town council, which would have limited powers comparable to a parish council, as a starting point for further devolution as they wanted control over planning policy, highways among other things.

Their petition triggered a review which had now been widened out to this city-wide review.

Coun Rob Pocock (Lab, Sutton Vesey) said: "Many of us have said for a long time that Birmingham has just become too big to govern from the centre.

"The radical new steps we are now going to consider will mean a better run council not just in Sutton but city wide."

There was a more cautious welcome from Coun Anne Underwood (Cons, Four Oaks) who chairs the Sutton Coldfield District Committee.

She said: "As a Sutton Coldfield councillor I am passionate about how residents in my area are represented and can influence decisions that affect them. But Sutton is also part of the wider Birmingham area.

"I believe it would be a mistake to push for a town council, which would have very little influence over the services provided by the city, and which, if established, could stand in the way of an exciting development for Birmingham as a whole and give greater devolution to Sutton Coldfield than it currently has or would have under a town council."

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