I have now had 24 hours to reflect on the words of wisdom from the five City Council Leadership candidates. The session was very ably moderated by Diane Kemp and Zubeda Limbada.
Given that has been the first time that Birmingham has had a leadership hustings of this kind, the candidates I feel responded well both to the submitted questions, but perhaps more importantly the questions from the floor.
Given that the allocated time was less than 2 hours, and of course each candidate would be allowed to respond to each question, this meant that many questions went unasked (including the questions which I had submitted beforehand!) – but that is very understandable.
Their responses might perhaps provide some pointers to policy and actions which any new Leader may wish to consider. But some I felt were grandstanding items.
But it was also clear that Kerslake, the Improvement Panel, the Council Budget cuts, and the Osborne Autumn Statement were all dark clouds hanging over them. How can they aim to provide some hope to the citizens and communities of this great city was something, which they were all grasping for.
But isn’t that what leadership is about – hope and optimism?
I am not sure I was convinced that we had a positive future vision – it seemed reactive. They left more questions than answers.
- Innovation in services through community working
- The need for greater devolution, and learning from parish council approaches
- Innovation in financial mechanism such as “brummie bonds” & more inventive use of Council assets (but is if there any which have not been sold off, or mortgaged against some other debts!)
- Living wages, regulating zero wage contracts
- Lots of free school meals, although who should be prioritised was left in the air
- Continue to improve training for jobs and learn from the experience of schemes set up for Grand Central employment (to be honest I have heard this said many times when we have had major schemes – ICC, Bullring, hotels, etc – its not new exactly)
- Need to support our SMEs better as we have concentrated on city centre and not enough on areas outside
- Ensure we join up our services around child poverty – this means recognising that children’s services are vulnerable, but we need to link our training and job creation together with children’s support
- Can Birmingham be the linguistic capital of Europe? Many of our population are at least bilingual, so lest capitalise on that
- We need a more diversified set of local economic strategies
- Community libraries will need to go through the “future council” model; but we will also have to make difficult choices; libraries will need to evolve into a 21st century and parish councils and others may well be part of the solution.
There were three questions, which I feel told us more about the candidates approach to the job description of “leader of the Council”
The first Question was what they would do on day 1 in respect of the Improvement Panel , which will meet very shortly in December and which the new Leader will attend;
- Penny Holbrook was very clear on this jumping in straightaway and setting down her priorities (i) to set a budget; partnership; leadership of the city – she would see Greg Clark in London and set up a “leadership group” for the city – honesty, leadership and integrity,
- Barry Henley would call in Chief Officers and open up things; reinstate Birmingham Compacts and stop kicking things down the road;
- Mike Leddy would set challenging targets for senior officers of the council and for the executive of the council
- Ian Ward would set the 16/17 & 17/18 budget and shape of BCC in 2020 and the plan for 2020;
- John Clancy would get out of Council House on day 1 and speak to people to get the answers we need. Members needed to stop micro-managing
The second question asked how they would change the culture of the Council?
- John Clancy said he didn’t want to run it, I want to lead the city. Members need to step back from micro-managing, and Cllrs need to do the leading;
- Ian Ward – yes, but BCC also has to do more listening to others, and also influencing other stakeholders, so this comes from the top
- Penny said we need to design what you want the city to look like in the future and then design the city council to deliver and then rebuild trust;
- Mike Leddy said members have interfered too much. Get the Chief Executive to do that job with the officers.
- Barry Henley said the Council has been autocratic so we need to change vision, values for the city and then the Council. We need a Leader who will form consensus
The third question – What would scare you as Leader?
- John Clancy – I am up for the challenge – but I know the existing culture is so strong that it would take to long to breakdown!
- Ian Ward – I am proud of the city, and have experience – not scared
- Penny Holbrook – what frightens about this is the scale of the cuts facing Birmingham now
- Mike Leddy – I am worried that I would let the city down in some aspects. I will make mistakes but they wont ever be the same mistake otherwise I will have failed!
- Barry Henley – I am scared of having Commissioners appointed.
This is one of three hustings over the next few days. As a first, I think it has set down a marker.
But there is a long way to go for those in the Council, and for our citizens to feel confident about their future.
I also feel that while there were some vaguely encouraging words about culture change and shift in the Council, but I know from bitter experience from within, that officer culture is more deep-rooted than any of these contenders were prepared to admit. If we are to engage and collaborate to make Birmingham great again, then that means being humble in dialogue with the Black Country, and not to dismiss exert opinion from outside the Council, on spurious grounds. Perhaps some officer change is necessary, but this was not contemplated.
So it’s a start, and I have to admit my views of the contenders was subtly changed last night. I wont say on what way at this stage. There is still one further public husting to go.
But I would really look forward to a new Leader who is not afraid of reaching out and also being really engaged in building a long term vision for our city.