Clancy maps out ‘Young Ones’ plan for homes, jobs and free school meals
The welfare of young people will be at the heart of a revised list of policy priorities under plans being drawn up by Birmingham city council leader John Clancy.
Cllr Clancy has made it clear that he sees a range of issues surrounding younger people as vitally important, including social care, skills, jobs and homes.
He told the council’s resources scrutiny committee while the conditions that led to the Trojan Horse scandal had been addressed and he was happy with progress made by the schools, there could never be a guarantee that attempts to takeover schools by extremists could not happen again.
Cllr Clancy, who is a former English teacher, said the “litmus test” of his administration would be to make sure “all young Brummies have access in school to music, art, drama and sport”.
He recalled visiting one of the former Trojan Horse schools recently to be greeted by a children’s choir. There was “plenty of evidence of art and sports” at the school, he added.
One of the findings of an inquiry into Trojan Horse conducted by former Metropolitan Police counter-terrorism commander Peter Clarke was the segregation of girls and boys in classrooms and the prohibition of girls in some schools from taking part in music, drama or art.
Cllr Clancy said he hoped the latest devolution plans, handing budgets and decision making powers down to neighbourhoods, would enable young people to become involved in deciding where money should be spent and instill civic leadership in communities.
He is looking closely at a project devised by Conservative councillors in Northfield that saw £50,000 handed over two years to a committee consisting of young people to be allocated for community improvement schemes.
The council leader said he wanted Birmingham to become a city “where it is good to grow up and good to grow old”. It had to be a place “where you can grow a family or a business”.
We will be focusing on what it is like to be a young person in the city and enable young people to thrive.
During an hour-long grilling by the scrutiny committee, Cllr Clancy mapped out his aims for the year ahead:
- House building will be a priority. The Birmingham Municipal Housing Trust will, if necessary, buy land and go into partnership with developers to get homes built.
- Negotiations are continuing to develop a scheme for ‘Brummie Bonds’, where members of the public and financial institutions will be able to invest in Birmingham, generating millions of pounds for the council.
- An announcement on a plan to make Birmingham a free school meals city for children at infants and primary schools is expected in the autumn, and could be backed by Conservative and Liberal Democrat councillors as well as the controlling Labour group.
Cllr Clancy said the private sector could not be trusted on its own to bring forward housing sites while the economy was heading into “choppy waters” following Brexit and said he would be “judged on how many houses I build over the next two years”.
If necessary we will be assertive with regard to house building. Developers are not releasing land they have even if it has planning permission for homes.
We own 40 per cent of the city. It is a significant land bank. In the past it’s been seen as part of the council’s revenues not the driver of economic growth. It is putting our assets into play.
Pointing out that Birmingham is the youngest city in Europe with over half the population under 40, Cllr Clancy said the demographic would be “no use at all to us” if homes were not built to solve the housing shortage. Young people would simply move away.
He said he was making “considerable progress” on plans to issue bonds to financial institutions and retail investors and insisted there was “a real appetite” for municipal bonds as a means of enabling councils to generate funds.
Birmingham is expected to participate in the Municipal Bonds Agency which gets under way later in the year and will enable councils to join forces in issuing bonds and share the risk. The agency would be a “game changer” for local government, Cllr Clancy stated.
Cllr Clancy took the opportunity to point to what could quickly become a pivotal moment for his administration – a potential clash with the West Midlands Local Government Pension Fund.
A valuation of the fund’s assets is underway and is certain to show a huge projected deficit. The seven West Midlands metropolitan councils will be asked to top up the fund and Birmingham’s contribution could be as much as £40 million, which the council leader would far rather spend directly on providing public services.
Cllr Clancy, who has published a book exposing the inefficiencies of local government pension funds and the huge fees paid to financial advisers, argues that the deficit has been artificially driven up by low interest rates and poor returns on gilts and there is little possibility in practice of the multi-billion pound fund ever being unable to meet its liabilities.
He signalled that he might refuse to top up the West Midlands fund:
There comes a stage where the top up fees councils are paying into the fund become so big that the whole situation gets out of control. We could be paying £40 million out of revenue into the pension fund.
I will robustly challenge the actuarial valuation if that is necessary.
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