Friday, May 25, 2012

Labour moves local meetings to the city centre and stop residents speaking at them

Labour moves local meetings to the city centre and stop residents speaking at them

The new Labour administration for Birmingham City Council has released details on how the Constituency, or to give them their new name, District Committees, will in future be run.

In future the District Committee will no longer be held within the Constituency they are responsible for, normally in a school hall or community centre, but instead they will in future be held  in the Council House in the city centre. They will no longer be held in the evenings – this was done to make it easier for residents to attend – but instead be held during the day. Members of the public will no longer be allowed to speak at these meetings, which at present, in most Constituency committees, they are encourage to do so.

Most importantly, the District Committees can not deviate from this new ruling, which previously they could do so.

The key paragraph is on page 2, as follows:

District Committee Meetings
District Committees should agree a programme of bi-monthly meetings, alternating with ward committee meetings, in the first instance. As decision-making meetings, these should take place in the Council House, in day-time during the normal working week.

Business should be conducted in public, except for those few reports which require private consideration for stated, appropriate reasons. As decision-making meetings, members of the public may only speak at the invitation of the Chairman. Committee rooms should be arranged so as to promote discussions amongst members of the Committee, rather than between the Committee and the public.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

No Black members in Birmingham’s Labour Cabinet is a retrograde step

No Black members in Birmingham’s Labour Cabinet is a retrograde step

Later today at 3pm there will be a demonstration in front of Birmingham’s Council House. The demonstration has been organised by members of Birmingham’s black community, who are incensed that there are no members of the black community represented either in the new Labour Cabinet or selected as a Chair of Scrutiny or Regulatory Committee.

I intend to be at this demonstration, since I agree with the protestors.

The Birmingham Labour Party was always very quick to complain that the 10-member Cabinet of the previous Conservative-Liberal Democrat Cabinet did not represent the ethnic mix of Birmingham. They were right, but in fairness this wasn’t for want of trying. The Conservative Councillor group had no Councillors from the Black and Multi Ethnic (BME) communities and within the Liberal Democrat group we were always urging our BME Councillors to take on positions of responsibility. With only two Liberal Democrat Councillors from the black Caribbean Community, they did nominate themselves for positions and were duly voted in by the Liberal Democrat group of Councillors: Councillor Karen Hamilton was a Chair of Scrutiny, whilst Councillor Ernie Hendricks was the Birmingham lead representative on the West Midlands Police Authority. In addition to this the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrat group was from the BME community.

Move forward to May 2012 and the new incoming Labour administration - one third of whose members are from the BME communities. You would think that the Labour Party would act on their complaint about the ethnic mix of the previous Cabinet. NO THEY HAVEN’T. Their eight member Cabinet contains just one member from the BME community, from the Pakistani community to be precise. There is not a single member from Birmingham black Caribbean community in either the Cabinet, as a Chair of Scrutiny or a Regulatory Committee. The only position of responsibility for a black Councillor is for Councillor Yvonne Mosquito (a very able Councillor, may I add) as Chair of Ladywood Constituency and the Birmingham lead representative on the West Midlands Police Authority

Despite the under representation of BME Councillors in the previous Conservative-Liberal Democrat administration, I do believe that our previous record in supporting Birmingham’s black community was good. Obviously, the final arbiter of our record will be the black community, but amongst our record of achievements, we did the following:
  • Brought the Handsworth Carnival – a black led community festival – back to it spiritual home in Handsworth Park
  • When through a lengthy process to identify a black-led community organisation to take on the restoration and running of the Mohammad Ali Centre in Hockley. The selected organisation should be announced in the next two months, unless of course the new Labour administration withdraws the offer.
  • Supported the creation of a new annual Reggae Festival - the Simmer Down Festival - in Handsworth Park to celebrate Birmingham’s contribution to this genre of music.
  • Protected the funding of the annual Black History Month from any cuts during these austere times.
  • Persuaded the Jamaican Olympic team to base their training camp here in Birmingham in the run up to the 2012 Olympics. There will also be cultural events linked in with their stay here, which will celebrate Birmingham’s links to Jamaica through its black community. For example there will be a Jamaican Village in Victoria Square during July.

There is much more that the Council can do to celebrate our Caribbean community’s contribution to the economy, culture and the future of our city. But this decision by the new Labour administration not to have any member of Birmingham’s black Caribbean community to be in the Cabinet or a Chair of a Scrutiny or Regulatory Committee sends out the wrong signal.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Labour destroys 30 years of work in the arts, sports and culture in Birmingham

Labour destroys 30 years of work in Birmingham's arts, sports and culture

The new Labour administration has today announced the new way that Birmingham City Council will run. The all powerful Cabinet Committee has been completely reconstructed, with previously centralised powers devolved down to District Committees. This was announced today at the Council Business Management Committee as part of the Annual Review of the City Council's Constitution

The new structure of the Cabinet is particularly problematic, since I believe is has laid the seeds of financial disaster for the Council within 12 months.......but that is worth another article.

What I want to focus on is the decision to get rid of the position of Cabinet for Leisure, Sport and Culture and leave 95% of the positions previous responsibility to absolutely no one. Yes, you read that right, Birmingham, for the first time in well over 30 years will no longer have a political champion for art, sport or culture in the Council.

The only responsibilities from the previous position that will be given to another Cabinet are described in the report as follows “Leisure, sports, arts and culture buildings and services - Effective management of these assets includingmanagement of grants.” This tiny part of the duties of previous Cabinet position will now be shared between two Cabinet members, namely the Deputy Leader and the new Cabinet Member for Commissioning, Contracting and Improvement. And you know what happens when responsibility is shared? No one takes responsibility.

So there you have it. Since the 1970s Birmingham has been building its reputation as both a sporting and cultural city, and all that have been wiped away within 5 days of the new Labour administration taking power.

As the last Cabinet member for Leisure, Sport and Culture I was regularly banging the drum on the importance of the arts and sport in Birmingham. While others saw art and sport and ‘fun activities’ I argued that these needed to be seen as part of a regeneration package for Birmingham. If we are going to attract the creative industry into Birmingham, then we need to reverse the brain drain from Birmingham - arts, culture and sport have a major part to play to keep skilled workers and graduates in this city. If we are going to attract company’s regional and national headquarters to Birmingham, then those companies need to be confident that they’ll be able to attract the best employees to their headquarters – again the city’s arts, culture and sports community have a major part to play here in attracting those employees.

The previous Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition that ran Birmingham from 2004 to 2012, has a record on the arts and sports to be proud of:

  • £5.8million investment in the rebuilding of the Midland Art Centre
  • £12million investment in the rebuilding of Harborne pool
  • £12million investment in a new stand at Alexander Stadium, which has in turn allowed Alexander Stadium to become the headquarters of UK Athletics and to host the UK heat of the global Diamond League athletics event.
  • £100k investment to keep the Aegon Classic at the Priory, which in turn unlocked a £5million investment in the the years to come this will enable the Priory to host higher standard tennis competitions.
  • £20million loan to Warwickshire Cricket club, to enable a £32million investment in the ground. This will ensure top class international cricket to be hosted here in years to come.
  • The creation of the Birmingham Half Marathon in 2008, which has grown to 15,000 competitors in 4 years – it is now part of the Great British Run series.
  • Successful hosting of a number of major championships such as the European Indoor Athletics Championships in 2007, World Half Marathon Championships in 2009, the World Trampoline and Tumbling, and Double Mini Trampoline Championships in 2011 and the World BMX Championships in 2012.  The city will also host the USA and Jamaican Olympic track and field teams at training camps in July 2012.
  • The creation of the Film Birmingham office which is increasingly attracting TV and film productions to Birmingham, including BBC1’s Hustle, BBC1’s Survivors and the film Toast.
  • In the coming year we were about to create the Music Birmingham office to help nurture and promote Birmingham’s music scene.
  • Protection of funding for the Arts Champion programme, which brings arts into the hard-to-reach communities of Birmingham
  • Freezing for 2 years any further reductions in funding for the numerous art organisations in Birmingham that receive funding from the Council. The 2 year freeze will enable the art organisations to adjust to the new funding regime, plus give the Council time to identify new sources of funding.
  • Initial concept of the Museum Quarter next to Millennium Point – this will include a Museum of Photography in the former Curzon Street station building; Ikon 2 – a national importance museum of contemporary arts, plus a home for a international importance modern art collection, which is presently looking for a new home.
  • Initial concepts of the converting of the former Birmingham Municipal Bank building on Broad Street/Centenary Square into a major cultural building

All the above achieved by having a Cabinet member who could champion the importance of arts, sports and culture in the Cabinet. We were moving forward with the creation of the Music Birmingham office, the creation of the Museum of Photography; the conversion of the former Municipal Bank on Broad Street into a major cultural centre. All of this now ripped up and chucked in the bin by a Labour administration only 5 days old. Well done!