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Birmingham council to hold all-out elections in 2017, and improvement panel named, as Pickles gets tough

Birmingham council to hold all-out elections in 2017, and improvement panel named, as Pickles gets tough

🕔21.Jan 2015

Birmingham City Council has been ordered to hold all-out elections in 2017 with every seat up for grabs following direct intervention by Communities Secretary Eric Pickles, reports Paul Dale.

The decision puts paid to re-electing one third of councillors each year and will make Birmingham more susceptible to change in the controlling political party.

It remains to be seen whether the city council will still consist of 120 councillors in 40 wards.

Mr Pickles, acting following the Kerslake Review into the council’s governance arrangements, has asked the Boundary Commission to consider reducing the size of the council to 100 members, or less.

The Secretary of State’s decision is a blow to Sir Albert Bore, the Labour leader of Birmingham city council, who had hoped for full consultation before moving to all-out elections.

But Mr Pickles’s move was backed by the council’s opposition Conservative leader Robert Alden, who believes all-out elections once every four years is the best option for Birmingham.

The 2017 election will be two years after the 2015 General Election at a time of unprecedented turbulence in UK politics, where fringe parties are attracting unusual levels of support. It would take a brave pundit to predict the result in Birmingham, a city often divided between Labour, Tory and Liberal Democrat support.

Mr Pickles has also revealed the membership of an improvement panel to help Birmingham city council improve the way it delivers services for residents.

The panel was one of the key recommendations from the Kerslake Review, which highlighted the council’s failure to improve over many years and its “deep rooted and serious problems”.

John Crabtree, a former senior partner of Birmingham law firm Wragge and chair of Birmingham Hippodrome will chair the panel.

Other members include Frances Done, former managing director for local government at the Audit Commission, Keith Wakefield, Leader of Leeds City Council, and Steve Robinson, chief executive of Cheshire West and Chester Council.

Mr Crabtree told the Birmingham Post:

The job of the panel will be to scrutinise the city council’s progress and report on it. But I’m a Brummie born and bred and I am passionate about Birmingham.

The aim is to be constructive. We won’t be going in, as Monty Python would say, like the Spanish Inquisition.

The council faces a big challenge. It is being asked to do a lot more with fewer resources. Nobody is going to be able to wave a magic wand and make it better overnight.

In a press release, Birmingham city council said: “The panel is charged with supporting the council as it pursues the vital reforms the city needs, in particular making sure it delivers against the recommendations made in the Kerslake report, which last month exposed a series of deep rooted and serious problems holding Birmingham back from reaching its potential.

Mr Pickles said: “The Kerslake report found a series of deep rooted and serious problems that are stopping both the city and the council from fulfilling their potential. It is essential now that the city council makes rapid progress if it is to serve the people and businesses of Birmingham as it should. I am confident the panel I have appointed will help achieve this.”

News of Mr Pickles’ dramatic intervention was relayed in an email to Labour councillors by Sir Albert Bore: “I have just been informed following a call to the Chief Executive from an official at DCLG  that tomorrow the Eric Pickles is laying the order before Parliament that formally moves the city council to all out elections in 2017.

“I can also advise that the Secretary of State intends to announce the membership of the Independent Improvement panel.”

Sir Albert added: “We have now had time to reflect on the report and begun to take steps to address the issues identified. We are producing a comprehensive improvement plan, working across the political spectrum and with our external partners.

“We are already making good progress towards establishing a combined authority to drive further the prosperity of our city and the city region, and have accelerated the initiative to tackle the skills and employment issues in the east of the city. Preliminary work is also well under way with the Boundary Commission for England to review the electoral cycle and ward boundaries.

“I am pleased that the Secretary of State consulted me on the membership of the panel, and welcome the appointments that have been made. These are challenging times for the city council but we are determined to play our part in the ongoing renaissance of this great city.”

The Kerslake report was published in December 2014. It found that Birmingham residents and businesses are not getting the best from a council that lacks a “clear vision for the city and has failed to tackle deep rooted problems over many years and administrations, such as low skills and economic growth”.

The report contained 11 major recommendations for action to be taken to secure the improvements needed if it is to effectively and efficiently deliver local public services for all the City’s communities. The first of these recommendations was to appoint an Independent Improvement Panel to provide the robust challenge and support the City Council requires. The Secretary of State appoints the Panel with agreement from Birmingham City Council.

The panel will oversee Birmingham’s implementation of their Action Plan to deliver the recommendations of the review.

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