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After the mayoral adventure, where now for Brum?

After the mayoral adventure, where now for Brum?

🕔12.May 2012

Almost a week since the mayoral referendum result and the inquest is pretty well complete. The reasons for Brum – and eight other cities – voting against the proposition have been well covered on this blog and across many other media. Birmingham is the biggest disappointment in many ways – frankly the Government thought it was in the bag some time ago without really analysing voter awareness or intentions and, more importantly, never really cutting through with either the ‘why’ or the ‘what’. As the largest of the cities and the one which was seen as most in need of a change to its leadership model, Brum would have been the big prize.

What’s done, ’tis done. Local and national policymakers will need to be careful not to fly in the face of the electorate’s judgement. There remains the prospect of metro mayors, but the real focus now should be on making the model of city leadership we have work, together with the accompanying institutions including the LEP. Beyond the local, we do need to build on partnerships across the city region, making transport, planning and inward investment arrangements work better along with the advent of PCCs in November. The City Deal, expected around the end of June, is now the main game in town. Birmingham needs to demonstrate the kind of leadership and vision required that will give it the access, budgets and powers from central Government that it would have more easily acquired under a mayor.

I was delighted RJF’s Referendum Results Reception didn’t turn into a wake last Friday. Amazing what a few free drinks and stunning views can do to modify the mood. Since then, however, I’ve been struck by the despondency and near depression I’ve encountered. I don’t budge from my post last week (Say no to the status quo). Having a mayor would have made a difference in all kinds of ways. But – and I’ve used this phrase already too often this week – we are where we are.

From my twitter timeline to the city’s streets, I’ve witnessed tears (that’s just the men), raging anger and even thoughts of of emigration. It has shades of the week following the death of Princess Diana, stopping just short of carpeting St Philips Square with flowers.

It’s time to move on. We have more than our fair share of problems, starting with education, skills and employment. Our public institutions are far from fit for purpose. We need a greater talent pool for our city leaders. More concerning than the result last week was turnout, highlighting a real disconnection between public and politics. We need to work together on these issues and many more.

We also have much to enjoy and exploit, from improving infrastructure and innovative industries to a rich diversity of place and people. Navigating, influencing and joining up the political system and public bodies may not be any easier after last week, but we all need to engage with the leaders and institutions we have with renewed vigour and an open mind.

Birmingham has often been characterised as a whinger in Whitehall. Arguably, even a whinging mayor would have been given a better hearing than a moaning leader under the prevailing system. Nevertheless, we need to ensure that reputation does not endure and we should all help city leaders present a robust case for more freedoms.

In Cities Minister Greg Clark, we have a potential advocate. There are many failings of Government in the implementation of its mayoral policy, whilst neither Labour or the Lib Dems can be said to have been helpful at national level. But Clark has battled hard and is a genuine believer in localism. He was impressive last Friday at RJF’s reception – maintaining a commitment to attend even in the face of a terrible outcome for his policy and promising to keep the agenda active and work across party lines with new leader Sir Albert Bore.

Now is the time to engage with the leaders who have been elected. We should help them develop the vision and find practical policy solutions. We should give them some space in the early days to find their feet and even make the odd mistake. We should certainly scrutinise their impact and effectiveness and not be afraid to criticise publicly when appropriate. The business community was always far too timid under the outgoing leadership to speak up in anything but whispers.

It’s time to take a sharp breath, offer solutions to Birmingham’s problems and hold our new leaders to account. Disengaging from local politics and whinging to central government will not be our best policy.

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