Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Albert’s got it wrong that it’s the end of local government

Albert’s got it wrong that it’s the end of local government

The Chamberlain Files have reported a new suicide note for Birmingham City Council written by the Birmingham Labour Party – see http://www.thechamberlainfiles.com/birmingham-city-council-in-600-million-budget-crisis/5017 

In the article, Paul Dale describes how under Albert Bore’s leadership the Council will be making over 1000 people redundant and reducing the Council to only providing “adult and children’s social services, schools, refuse collection and housing.” Or as Albert describes it “the end of local government as we have known it.”

Now I could go on to describe how Albert and the Labour Party came into power in May promising “no cuts”, but I won’t. What I will describe is how if the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition had continued, this decimation would not be happening.

The coalition recognised that there were massive inefficiencies within the Council and there were huge opportunities to carefully cut these out. And when I left in May 2012 as Cabinet member for Leisure, sport and Culture, there were still loads more inefficiencies and money raising ways that could be dealt.

To give some examples of how lose making Council services can be turned around, let’s look as some examples I achieved as Cabinet member

Golf courses – Birmingham has 7 golf courses that have been losing money for over 20 years. In 2008/9 they lost £650,000 with the likelihood that would increase to over £1million per year. When I became Cabinet member, my officers were recommending closing half of Cocks Moor Woods golf course, closing one third of Harborne Church Farm golf course and completely closing Hill Top golf course. I completely turned this on its head and invited bids from private sector companies to run ALL 7 golf courses. Last January, a national golf company with an excellent reputation took over the management of the courses. They would investing over £16million in upgrading them, plus maintain the courses as competively priced turn-up-and-play golf courses. The Council still own the courses, but the £650k loss is now reduced to zero.

The Labour Party criticised me for privatising the management of our golf courses, insisting that ‘they’ would be happy to keep funding them to the tune of £650,000 per year. I reduced that loss to zero and if I hadn’t done this, all 7 courses would now be in danger of closing after April 2013.

Harborne swimming baths – Harborne swimming baths used to lose £300,000 per year. With its rebuilding, we estimated that if the Council continued to run it, it would lose £150,000 per year. We now have a private company who are paying the Council to run it as a municipal leisure centre. Harborne swimming baths is now the ONLY leisure centre that does not make a loss. The Council still sets the entrance price for Harborne baths, plus they continue to run all the Councils concessionary schemes. So how is it that a private sector company can run a leisure centre at a profit, but not the public sector. The reason is simple – the private sector companies market the leisure centres well and run them efficiently both in energy use and management. There are lots of private companies that run municipal leisure and sports centres up and down Britain and understand the latest energy saving technologies, plus the latest leisure trends for customers.

Birmingham has a huge stock of leisure centres that are losing millions of pounds per year. Instead of closing them down, as Labour seem intent on doing, let’s see if the private sector can run them profitably.
Playing fields – the Council spends over a million pounds per year cutting grass in playing fields that desperately need investment. A classic example is Holders Lane and Pebble Mill playing fields, just south of Cannon Hill Park. The Council spends over £100,000 per year cutting its grass, with almost zero income from their hire. Few schools use them due to the derelict changing rooms on Holders Lane playing fields, and the non-existence of changing rooms on Pebble Mill playing fields.

We have two organisations that would like to maintain these playing fields at their own cost, invest up to £7million in upgrading the playing fields by installing new drainage and building state-of-the art changing rooms on both playing fields. The cost of hire would still be set by the Council and schools would be encouraged to use them.

The new Labour administration doesn’t want to hand over these playing fields to either organisations and are happy to continue cutting the grass and see little-or-no-one use these playing fields (so much for our Olympic legacy!).

When I was Cabinet member, we had lots of interested companies – community, charitable and private – that were interested in taking the day-to-day management of specific playing fields off our hands, investing in them and continuing to run them as community playing fields.

Isn’t it better to see our playing fields run by non-Council organisations, than to be left to rot under Council management as the Labour Party seems intent on doing?

The above is just a small part of the entrepreneurial ways that the previous Conservative-Liberal Democrat administration was working with both the third sector and the private sector to run our Council services more efficiently.

The Birmingham Labour may feel working with the third sector and private sector is ideologically impure. However, I think members of public would rather see an open private-public sector facility, than a permanently closed public sector facility.

Time for the Labour administration to get real!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Birmingham Irish community “betrayed” by Birmingham City Council

Birmingham Irish community “betrayed” by Birmingham City Council – an open letter to Councillor Sir Albert Bore from John Fitzgerald, Minstrel Music, Irish Centre, Digbeth

John F Kennedy Memorial Mosaic 

The Betrayal
The deceitful and underhand ways that have now come to light over the JFK Memorial Mosaic, does no credit to the people who have gone against the decisions agreed at previous meetings, to decide the future of this much admired and loved mosaic. 

Someone at Birmingham City Council, and others lurking in the background, have gone against the wishes of the thousands of Irish people not only in Birmingham but visitors to the City even from abroad who wanted to the memorial restored to its former glory.

A memorial to John F Kennedy and John F Kennedy ONLY with no additions or alterations.

When it was decided to redevelop St Chads Circus, I met with Oliver Budd, son of Kenneth Budd who designed the mosaic in 1967-68. Also at this meeting were:
  • Members of Birmingham City Council planning group 
  • Brendan Farrell correspondent at that time with the Irish Post 
  • Eddie Dunne and Paddy Rochford – Wexford County Association 
  • Pat O’Neill – Irish Forum 
  • Patsy Davis – Irish Heritage Group 

Mr Budd pointed out some significant damage to the mural due to wear and tear over the thirty years the memorial was in place.

He assured us that he could preserve the original portraits of key people such as JFK, Martin Luther King, etc, and incorporate these into a new mosaic. Following on from this a full community meeting was held in 2002 at the Irish Fm office in Chapel House Street, Digbeth. Oliver Budd presented various options at this meeting; the group present were unanimous in its support for option 3b, for the preservation of this unique memorial to John F Kennedy, namely the conservation of important elements of the original portraits of key people such as JFK, Martin Luther King, etc. And their incorporation into a new replica mosaic work. It was felt that this option provides both a link to the past and the flexibility to tailor the memorial to its new setting hopefully within the proposed Irish Quarter.

The next meeting called was in the Irish Centre 2010. This meeting was to agree a suitable location for the memorial. All present voted in favour of the corner of Floodgate Street and Digbeth High Street (opposite South Birmingham College).

People who attended these meetings have heard nothing since that time, only to see various conflicting reports in different newspapers. It has now come to light, but only through a photograph in the Harp newspaper that the late Mike Nangle, former Lord Mayor of Birmingham, is to be incorporated into what is the John F Kennedy memorial mosaic. This is not what was agreed at the various meetings I and many other people attended. While Mike Nangle was a well respected member of the community, so also, was Rev Fr Maguire who along with the late Joe McGlynn and Billy Hestor worked so hard with the help of the Irish Community to raise the £5,000 to create this mosaic.

There is also Rev Fr Murphy from the Irish Centre in Moat Row who fifty years ago worked so hard to help young Irish people coming to the city for the first time, or the late Rev Fr Joe Taffe who contributed so much to the Irish Community.

It’s the John F Kennedy memorial mosaic only and it’s sad that some people in our community, that maybe we felt we could trust, can go behind the backs of all the people who attended these meetings and change the whole concept of this mosaic.

I am sure I speak for a lot of good Irish people in Birmingham who feel as strongly as I do over this betrayal. How wrong can one be about people?

I have called a special meeting in the Irish Centre in Digbeth for Thursday 25th October 2012 at 7.30pm. Please be there.

John Fitzgerald
Minstrel Music
Irish Centre

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Public meeting this Thursday to discuss whether or not Mike Nangle’s head should be included in the John F Kennedy mural

Public meeting this Thursday to discuss whether or not Mike Nangle’s head should be included in the John F Kennedy mural

A public meeting has been organised to discuss whether or not the former Labour Councillor Mike Nangle should be included in the mural of the forthcoming John F Kennedy memorial. The meeting will be held in the Irish Centre at 7.30pm on Thursday 25th October. 

For background on the cause for this meeting can be read on my blog at http://martinmullaney.blogspot.co.uk/2012/09/labour-councillors-head-secretly.html

The meeting has been organised by John Fitzgerald, who was on the Birmingham Irish Catholic Committee in the 1960s that raised the funds for the original 1968 memorial. In attendance will be Brendan Farrell, well known and respected journalist in the British Irish community. Brendan helped raise money for the original 1968 memorial. Both John and Brendan helped save bits of the 1968 memorial when it was being demolish in 2007.

Both John and Brendan are against Mike Nangle’s head being included in the crowd scene around John F Kennedy in the mural. They would rather he is remembered with his name inscribed on the 1 metre high stainless steel plinth, which has been designed to allow prominent members of the Birmingham Irish community to be inscribed on her.

The decision to include the former Labour Councillor in the mural was taken by the new Labour administration without any consultation with the Irish community and against an earlier decision at a public meeting to not include new figures in the 1968 mural.

Carl Chinn will also be at this public meeting on Thursday.

John Fitzgerald will be on RadioWM tomorrow (Sunday) at 3.30pm to announce the public meeting.

Friday, October 19, 2012

The bizarre silence by the Birmingham Mail over the John F Kennedy memorial

The bizarre silence by the Birmingham Mail over the John F Kennedy memorial

The great thing about the internet is that you don’t need to rely on local newspapers to get your story out. Also, you can show stories that particular newspapers will not print, whilst other newspapers will. In this case, the Birmingham Mail is completely blanking out any stories about the outrageous inclusion of former Councillor Mike Nangle in the soon to be re-created John F Kennedy memorial in Digbeth. 

Having spent over 20 years writing press releases for the local media, I do feel I have a good feel for the type of subjects that different types of local media are interested in. This is one story, that I know would normally get into the Birmingham Mail. Indeed, this story was the front page story for the Birmingham-base Harp newspaper – see http://www.theharpnews.com/images/pdf_files/harp_oct2012.pdf

I have also given the Birmingham Mail the contact details of three ‘movers and shakers’ in the Birmingham Irish community who are also outraged by the inclusion of former Councillor Mike Nangle in the mural. One of these contacts was on the original Birmingham Irish Catholic Committee in the 1960s that created the 1968 Kennedy memorial. Another contact is a well known member of the Birmingham Irish community and raised money for the 1968 memorial. Both of these members were prominent is saving parts of the Kennedy memorial when it was demolished in 2007. The third contact is a prominent cultural figure in the Birmingham Irish community.

I have also written a letter to the letters page of the Birmingham Mail – I’ve reproduced the text of the letter below. The letter was never published.

So why is Birmingham Mail refusing to mention anything about the appalling behaviour of the Birmingham Labour administration demanding the inclusion former Labour Councillor Mike Nangle in the Kennedy mural without any consultation with the Birmingham Irish community?
The text of my letter to the Birmingham Mail, which they will not publish is below: 
26th September 2012

Dear Sir,

I hope you will provide me with the chance to inform your readers of a recent decision by the Labour run Birmingham City Council to introduce party politics into the recreation of the John F Kennedy memorial in Digbeth.

Readers will be aware that the original memorial was unveiled in St Chads Circus in 1968. Unfortunately this memorial was demolished in 2007 for a major road junction, but plans were announced to recreate the memorial somewhere in Digbeth.

As the then Cabinet member for Leisure, Sport and cClture I led the group that sought a new respectful location for the memorial. Prior to my inclusion there had been crazy proposals to have bits of the mural either above a shop front or on the gable end of Dubliner pub in Digbeth. Plus there were also proposals to include modern day figures such as Bob Geldof, Nelson Mandela, Mother Theresa and recently deceased Labour Councillor Mike Nangle.

The group I led on consulted with the local Irish community and a new location on the corner of Floodgate Street and High Street Deritend was agreed. Plus it was agreed that the mural would not have modern figures, including former Councillor Mike Nangle, but remain exactly as it was in 1968.

The creation of the mural started last October and is now nearly finished. However, the new Labour administration has told the artist, Oliver Budd that they want former Labour Councillor Mike Nangle included in the mural.

Why is Mike Nangle included? Yes, Mike was a lovely person and he was someone I had many a pleasant pint of beer with at the Prince of Wales pub in Moseley. But he had absolutely nothing to do with the creation or restoration of the Kennedy memorial. There are far more relevant people who could have been included in the memorial . For example Senator Bobby Kennedy? Father Maguire of St Catherine’s Church, Bristol Street who raised the money in 1968 to fund the mural? Members of the Irish Welfare, who with me, worked to find a new respectful site?

There has been no consultation with the local Irish community and the decision has been done in secret. It’s a ‘take it or lump’ decision that is becoming all too common with this new Labour run Council.

Martin Mullaney
Former Liberal Democrat Councillor for Moseley and Kings Heath Ward

Monday, October 15, 2012

Why political conferences are important to Birmingham

Why political conferences are important to Birmingham

Followers of my twitter account will know that I like reading articles on the Chamberlain Files website. However, I do need to respond to an article that has appeared on their website this morning, namely: The Emperor’s New Clothes: Sir Albert Bore and the 'myth' that party conferences are good for Birmingham http://www.thechamberlainfiles.com/the-emperors-new-clothes/4931 

If you read the article you will see that the author agrees with the new Birmingham Labour administration questioning the need to spend £1.5million per year attracting party political conferences to Birmingham. The article goes on to question the economic value of such a subvention in attracting visitors to our hotels, restaurants and pubs.

I do feel this article completely misses the point and importance of party political conferences in Birmingham. If we were only to look at the economic value to the hotels, restaurants and bars on hosting these conferences, then I would be up there also questioning their worth. I am sure that hosting the UK stamp collectors convention or the ball-bearing manufacturers European symposium would attract more attendees than any political conference and for a fraction of the subvention.

But party political conferences have a far greater economic value than any comic book convention at the ICC will ever attract. For the following two reasons:

1) The Global City agenda

Attracting party political conferences fits in perfectly with the Global City agenda for Birmingham. Many post-industrial cities across the world have recognised the economic value of being a global city. Global Cities attract businesses to set up their regional and national headquarters in them. Places like Manchester and Frankfurt had the same economic and image problems in the late 1970s that blight Birmingham now – they have transformed themselves in the last thirty years by acting as Global Cities. Global cities have many common characteristics and one of those is the hosting political meetings of national, European and International importance. 

2) Bringing the nations decision makers and London media to Birmingham 

Birmingham suffers from an out dated image problem. Members of the government, across the political spectrum, and London’s national media, still think of Birmingham as a dull concrete city full of pedestrian underpasses. You and I know that Birmingham has transformed itself in the last twenty years, BUT those in London still have this negative view of Birmingham. 

That negative old fashioned view of Birmingham damages our city economically. Look at how Manchester is now seen as a ‘cool cutting edge city’ attracting graduates every year, whilst Birmingham continually fails to retain its graduates.

When I was the Cabinet member for Leisure, Sport and Culture (2009 to 2012) the only time the London press were ever interested in coming to Birmingham was only to write disparaging articles about how boring, soulless or thick Birmingham was. I would always do my upmost to prove the complete opposite and with plenty of success.

So to have the nation’s media and a large part of the government here in Birmingham last week is a fantastic opportunity to prove how brilliant this city is AND to explain how much more successful we could achieve with a little bit more help from the government.

Finally It is interesting that whilst Councillor Sir Albert Bore talks openly about ending the subvention of party political conferences coming to Birmingham, Manchester is steaming ahead attracting future political conferences. Manchester clearly ‘gets it’ about being a Global City. I am sure ending the political conferences will please the back benches of the Birmingham Labour Party. It will be a short sighted victory and allow Manchester to, yet again, leave Birmingham standing.