Clancy meets improvement panel and issues call for unity
John Clancy will spend his first day as Birmingham city council leader-elect attempting to convince the Government’s independent improvement panel that he is serious about delivering the governance reforms and culture change set out in the Kerslake Review.
He is to meet the panel’s chair John Crabtree and vice chair Frances Done this afternoon and is also seeking urgent talks with Communities Secretary Greg Clark.
Clancy’s mission is to persuade Mr Clark that he can inject fresh energy into the council’s slow response to Kerslake – the panel has twice warned it is not satisfied with the pace of progress under current council leader Sir Albert Bore, and Mr Clark has hinted at further Government intervention in Birmingham with the possibility of commissioners directly running the council.
The council leader-elect had a 9am meeting with council chief executive Mark Rogers this morning to talk about his plans when he is formally appointed council leader on December 1.
He wants to meet quickly also with Tory and Liberal Democrat opposition group leaders Robert Alden and Paul Tilsley to convince them he is serious about involving all councillors in policy development.
Cllr Clancy’s immediate task may not be made any easier by the extremely narrow margin of his election as leader of the council Labour group. He emerged victorious from a near five hour meeting, winning by 38 votes to 37 for Cllr Penny Holbrook, with two ballot papers spoilt.
The drama of the night was heightened by a last minute change in the method of voting for candidates. The West Midlands Regional Labour Party decided to drop plans for a single transferable vote ballot in favour of an eliminating ballot.
The first round of voting exposed a three-way split. Cllr Clancy topped the poll with 31 votes (40%), eight short of an overall majority. Cllr Holbrook, seen by many as flag carrier for Sir Albert Bore, was second with 23 votes (29%), and deputy council leader Ian Ward came third with 22 votes (28%). Barry Henley, the fourth contender, gained only one vote.
The first round figures shocked Clancy’s supporters. Their canvassing returns predicted between 40 and 46 votes in the first round, enough to win the contest easily.
Cllr Holbrook’s strong showing was all the more creditable since she was the last candidate to enter the race and told friends just before putting herself forward that she didn’t want the job.
Ian Ward, deputy to Sir Albert for 10 years, demonstrated that he remains a force to be reckoned with, although he eventually dropped out of the race after the second round of voting. The first tricky decision for Cllr Clancy is to consider Cllr Ward’s position as deputy council leader and to decide whether to put pressure on him to stand down.
Cllr Clancy immediately issued a call for Labour unity in an attempt to head off another leadership contest next May. He will argue that any attempt to oust him would be a dangerous distraction and put at risk delivery of the Kerslake reforms. He said:
The unity message is clear. We have had the leadership election, we must now all move forward together to tackle the very serious issues facing Birmingham.
I certainly want to show the improvement panel that I am determined to work with everyone, businesses, stakeholders, community groups and all political parties, to deliver the reforms set out in the Kerslake Review.
There are signs that the Labour group will give Cllr Clancy time to prove himself and that there is little appetite for another debilitating leadership contest.
Cllr Holbrook used her website after the leadership vote to express support for Cllr Clancy and urged supporters to “carry on working together, and with the new leader, to make Birmingham the first city”.
A West Midlands Labour party statement, prepared in advance for whoever won the leadership contest, was issued in Cllr Clancy’s name and with his approval:
It is with a great sense of honour and responsibility that I take on this new role of leader of the Labour group.
I want to thank the other leadership candidates for conducting an open and respectful debate – and for all of their contributions throughout this process.
I want to pay tribute to Sir Albert Bore for his dedication to Birmingham, his commitment to the people of Birmingham, for his leadership of the council and as leader of the Labour group for the last 16 years. Sir Albert has always put Labour values at the centre of his vision for Birmingham – he has brought world-class investment to the city and overseen the longest period of regeneration in the city’s history.
I am also very grateful to my family, friends and Labour colleagues for their support throughout this leadership election.
There are challenging times ahead for Birmingham – and now, under my leadership, the Labour group will continue the work already started to swiftly address the concerns of the Kerslake report.
I will also ensure that the good work already underway on the improvement agendas for safeguarding and education continues, alongside our commitment to improved partnership working and a more open and transparent council.
Over the coming days I will be concentrating on briefings with senior colleagues ahead of the Full Council meeting next week. After this I will be making a more detailed statement.
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