Blog Archives

Under Scrutiny

On Tuesday I appeared before the Council’s Social Cohesion and Community Safety Scrutiny Committee to take questions on the work I’ve been doing as a member of the City Council’s Cabinet.

Despite being interrupted by a fire alarm during the middle of proceedings and having to evacuate the Council House for a short period, we managed to cover a wide range of topics, including the city’s Social Inclusion Process, the impact of welfare reform and how we can hand more power and control to local communities.

The meeting was live streamed on the internet and you can view a recording by clicking here.

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Giving power back to the people

My reflections on the election results in Birmingham and the challenges facing the new Labour administration were the subject of an article I wrote for the ProgLoc website last week.

You can read the article in full here.

An astonishing degree of complacency

The Cabinet Member for Local Services & Community Safety gave his annual report to the City Council meeting yesterday afternoon.

The report, which you can read here, is an astonishingly complacent document.  It offers no vision for how the Council intend to respond to the Government’s Localism Act or share more power with local people.  On the unprecedented cuts to policing – probably the most serious community safety issue facing our city – the Cabinet Member offers no comment at all.

As the Labour Shadow Cabinet Member for Local Services, I responded to the report on behalf of the Opposition at yesterday’s meeting.  You can see my speech by clicking here.

Putting communities in control

One of the major problems facing Birmingham City Council is its sheer size.  With a total annual budget of some £3.5billion, the Council is responsible for delivering services across a wide variety of neighbourhoods, each with their own priorities, needs and challenges.  All too often, the City Council has tried to address this through a “one size fits all” approach, with services designed and managed centrally.  It’s an approach that simply hasn’t worked.

Back in 2004, the then Labour-run Council started a process of devolving more power out to communities through a network of Constituency and Ward Committees.  The intention was to give these Committees control over a range of local services  like libraries, leisure facilities, environmental maintenance and housing management.  Residents and their elected representatives would be able to shape decisions about services and budgets, rather than Cabinet Members and senior officials in the Council House imposing their will from on high.

Sadly, progress over the last few years has stalled.  Despite there being voices in favour of more devolution within the ranks of the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, they have been stymied by a strong “anti-devolution” lobby within the administration.  As a result, there is a real need to kick start the process and get back into the business of empowering local communities.

On Tuesday, the City Council debated a report entitled “Resourcing Devolution”.  Drawn up by a cross party committee of Councillors, including myself, the report sets out a series of actions for putting some life back into the devolution process.  You can read the report by clicking here.

The debate in the Council Chamber can be viewed by clicking on the links below.  The recording is in two parts and my own contribution can be found in Part One, at 6 minutes and 30 seconds.

I’m passionate about giving control back to local communities and I think we need a radical renewal of our efforts to achieve this.  The proposals in “Resourcing Devolution” , provide a good starting point, but we need to go much further.   Devolution isn’t just a nice “add-on” extra.  It is essential to delivering services that meet people’s needs and provide value for money.  That’s why decentralising power and empowering local people has to sit at the very heart of our plans for Birmingham’s future.

Resourcing Devolution debate part 1

Resourcing Devolution debate part 2