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‘Big Beasts’ crash out in post-Kerslake Labour jobs shake-up – new cabinet and scrutiny line up

‘Big Beasts’ crash out in post-Kerslake Labour jobs shake-up – new cabinet and scrutiny line up

🕔18.May 2015

Muhammad Afzal, Anita Ward and Carl Rice, three of Birmingham’s longest serving and experienced politicians are without a job in the city council’s Labour administration for the first time in years, reports Paul Dale.

The three lost out at the annual Labour group meeting where scrutiny committee chairs were voted for – and as a result immediately find themselves between £13,000 and £15,000 a year worse off through the loss of special responsibility allowances.

For once, the failure of the trio to land paid positions cannot be blamed on behind the scenes manipulation by council leader Sir Albert Bore.

The architect of their downfall is Lord Kerslake, whose highly critical review of Birmingham city council’s governance capabilities recommended reducing nine scrutiny committees to three.

Sir Albert took a gamble on having five scrutiny committees – although it is unclear whether that figure has been approved by the Government-appointed improvement panel overseeing the council’s performance.

The panel will have its say on June 11 when it meets in public for the first time to question Sir Albert and council chief executive Mark Rogers about the improvement plan.

It was obvious that the ‘payroll vote’ of councillors relying on Sir Albert’s patronage for scrutiny committee and regulatory committee jobs would be reduced.

But no one quite forecast that the big beasts of Labour politics in Birmingham in the shape of Afzal, former Employment and HR Committee chair, Rice, former chair of the main scrutiny committee, and Ward, former chair of the vulnerable children scrutiny committee, with almost 80 years’ council service between them, would end up without jobs.

The demise of Cllr Afzal took colleagues by surprise, not least because as a long-term supporter of Sir Albert’s leadership he was expected to receive protection. It had been assumed that Afzal “would be found something” and would keep his special responsibility allowance.

Sadly, Cllr Afzal did not emerge with his reputation intact from the Kerslake Review, which blasted the Employment and HR Committee for “failing in its primary responsibility” and painted a damning picture of the body as dysfunctional and incompetent.

Sir Albert accepted Kerslake’s recommendation to scrap the Employment and HR Committee, passing responsibility for workforce planning to deputy council leader Ian Ward.

Even so, Cllr Afzal apparently had high hopes of moving to another well-paid job and applied for either a cabinet position or to be a scrutiny chair. He got neither.

In many ways the demise of Carl Rice was even more of a shock. As chair of the governance, resources and customer services scrutiny committee, Cllr Rice was effectively in charge of the scrutiny process and has been a vital link between the Labour executive and the party’s backbenchers for more than a decade.

Anita Ward, meanwhile, a former chief whip and generally seen as a Bore loyalist, made a name for herself as a passionate chair of the education and vulnerable children scrutiny committee. Possibly her relentless probing of the failing children’s social services department and the Trojan Horse affair made her some enemies at the Council House.

Labour party selection rules requiring gender fairness meant that two of the five scrutiny committee chairmanships had to go to women.

The five successfully elected chairs are Majid Mahmood (Hodge Hill), Victoria Quinn (Sparkbrook), Zafar Iqbal (South Yardley), Susan Burfoot (Billesley) and Cllr Waseem Zaffar (Lozells and East Handsworth).

Sir Albert decided to increase the size of the cabinet from nine to 10, bringing in Cllr Paulette Hamilton (Handsworth Wood) in a newly created position as member for homes and neighbourhood management – effectively restoring the cabinet housing portfolio scrapped in 2012.

District committee chairs are Ziaul Islam (Ladywood), Karen McCarthy (Selly Oak), Josh Jones (Erdington), Ansar Ali Khan (Hodge Hill), Mahmood Hussain (Perry Barr), Tony Kennedy (Hall Green), Peter Griffiths (Northfield).

Cllr Barbara Dring (Oscott) continues as chair of the licensing committee, Cllr Mick Sharpe (Tyburn) is chair of the planning committee and Cllr Sam Burden (Hall Green) is chair of the audit committee.

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