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Chamber POTY: Mike Whitby, nominated by Paul Dale

Chamber POTY: Mike Whitby, nominated by Paul Dale

🕔18.Dec 2012

Few people are likely to nominate Mike Whitby for an award, but I for one believe the former leader of Birmingham City Council deserves recognition.

Whitby, a socially liberal Conservative, held together an unlikely coalition with the Liberal Democrats between 2004 and May 2012. And, actually, the Progressive Partnership did achieve quite a lot.

We can all argue over the irony that Whitby’s coalition benefited from a Labour government’s loosening of the purse strings with its Prudential Borrowing scheme, which enabled Birmingham’s largest ever housing renovation scheme to go ahead as well as other major capital projects.

But the fact remains, as the man himself will never tire of telling you, the coalition generally left Birmingham a better place even if the administration’s final two years were clouded by the gathering storm of austerity and unprecedented public spending cuts.

The Chamber POTYs are the first Person of the Year Awards run by The Chamberlain Files. To see who else has been nominated, click here

On Whitby’s watch – and let’s also recognise the Lib Dem contribution under the leadership of John Hemming and then Paul Tilsley – the following was achieved:

  • New Street Station refurbished.
  • Library of Birmingham built.
  • Council housing modernised.
  • Metro tram extension approved.
  • Single Status reforms introduced at council, ending decades of unequal pay for women.
  • Horrific, unfit, old people’s homes demolished and replaced by extra care villages.
  • Business transformation scheme on course to deliver £1bn savings.

Yes, yes, I know, some of those projects began in embryonic form under the 1999-2004 council leadership of Sir Albert Bore, but most were going nowhere until the coalition took office.

There were problems, of course. Services for vulnerable children remained inadequate under Whitby and are still inadequate today. Adult social services are swallowing more and more of the council budget. The improvement in schools’ standards has stalled and in some cases is in reverse.

But the idea being put about by a few Labour figures that the financial crisis Birmingham finds itself in today is somehow chiefly the fault of the former coalition is disingenuous.

Now, I am fully aware that Mike Whitby isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. In common with many successful politicians, he has an ego as large as his personality. When he stands up to speak no one can be certain what is going to happen, least of all the speaker.

But in an age when gongs are handed out like confetti to tone-deaf pop singers and footballers with two left feet, you’d think that Mike Whitby would have been recognised by now for his contribution to Birmingham.

He is the first city council leader in recent times not to be rewarded with a knighthood, if we accept the widely held belief that Labour’s Theresa Stewart rejected a Damehood.

The failure to honour Mike Whitby is all the more curious given that we have had a Conservative-led government since 2010. You’d think they would want to reward one of their own.

Whitby is a pale shadow of his former self these days, rarely contributing at council meetings. It is looking increasingly likely that he will have to step down as leader of the Conservative group, or be forced out, and may well decide not to contest his Harborne seat in 2014.

Surely, we can all find it within ourselves to say ‘thanks for your hard work, Mike’.

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