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Bore and Whitby dig in for the long haul

Bore and Whitby dig in for the long haul

🕔13.Jul 2012

No casualties yet in Birmingham City Council’s phoney war.

But the battle of press releases between the incoming Labour administration, in the shape of Sir Albert Bore, and his predecessor as Tory council leader, Mike Whitby, shows no sign of diminishing.

The pair have been going at it claim for claim since the end of May.

Bore says he has uncovered a £21 million ‘black hole’ in the city’s budget, and it’s all down to the failure by the former Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition to balance the books.

Whitby hit back, reminding Sir Albert that the coalition inherited a far larger £30 million budget deficit when taking control of the council from Labour in 2004. He added, cheekily, that one Mike Whitby would be happy to resume control of the finances if the pressure was getting a bit too much for Sir Albert and his cabinet.

No reply from Sir Albert on that one. But I think we can assume the answer is ‘no’, or something ruder with asterisks.

Whitby and Bore have also been trading punches over who should take the credit for recent successes.

The City Deal announcement, with the prospect of a £2 billion investment budget and a £25 million centre for translational medicine, was given the full Bore by Labour. But Whitby suggested the deal had been negotiated during his period in office and was all down to the coalition’s powers of persuasion over Ministers.

The Tory leader was also quick to claim credit for the latest council performance figures, which show that 81 per cent of “extremely challenging” targets were met in 2011-12.”We can rightly be proud of our successes”, Whitby trumpeted.

And, unfortunately, there is likely to be more of this to come. The new civic library in Centenary Square will open its doors in September, and if there’s anything that symbolises the eight-year coalition rule, it’s this £187 million project which Labour opposed.

In his latest communique, Whitby pays tribute to the “internationally acclaimed” library, which is odd since the building isn’t even finished yet.

The big question remains: who will open the new library? I think we can rule out Mike Whitby, if Sir Albert has anything to do with it.

Ssshhh! Don’t mention this to Paul Tilsley, but Andy Street, charismatic chairman of Birmingham’s Local Enterprise Partnership, was spurred to ride to the aid of his home city when he read of Andrew Adonis’s controversial remarks at the Lunar Society’s Annual Lecture in the early part of 2011.

Lord Adonis pulled no punches when setting out a case for an elected mayor to deal with Birmingham’s ‘chronic’ problems, particularly in skills and education.

Leaks of the Labour peer’s lecture so enraged Liberal Democrat  Tilsely that the then deputy council leader threatened to bring down all manner of hellfire and damnation on the shoulders of the venerable members of the Lunar Society, and even suggested the event should be cancelled.

It’s worth recalling the tone of Adonis’s lecture, which was regarded as all the more explosive as it was delivered just a few weeks before the May 2011 council elections. He warned of a bleak future for Birmingham, adding that the city was being held back by weak leadership.

Unemployment, poor workforce skills, under-performing schools, unacceptably high infant mortality and social deprivation were contributing to a deepening crisis that council leaders were ill-equipped to deal with, Adonis claimed.

So a supreme irony, then, that those very words were what finally persuaded Street, the chief executive of John Lewis, no less, to take the helm of the LEP, which was borne out of the ashes of the now defunct AWM.

Street was the key speaker at a dinner organised by the Lunar Society recently, where he told his audience that when he heard what his old college mate Adonis had said, “I made up my mind to put myself forward and do what I could to help Birmingham.”


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