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Dale’s Diary: Councillor Rip Van Winkle and the LEP where time stood still

Dale’s Diary: Councillor Rip Van Winkle and the LEP where time stood still

🕔11.Mar 2016

How much longer can Councillor Stewart Stacey’s beard grow before special measures are required to keep it safely in place?

The Birmingham cabinet member has always had a bit of a Bohemian look, but of late he resembles Rip Van Winkle having staggered unshaven out of a 50-year sleep.

A rather more pertinent question is how much longer can Cllr Stacey’s cabinet career last?

He doesn’t have much in common with his Labour comrade, John Clancy, the council leader, whose well-cut three-piece suits and smart ties put one in mind of a prosperous bank manager.

Stacey has rarely, if ever, been sighted wearing a tie and has even been known during the summer to turn up at cabinet meetings wearing shorts and sandals. It is not known whether Clancy even possesses a pair of shorts, but they will be tailored and smart if he does.

Cllr Stacey is the cabinet member for commissioning, contracting and improvement. As such he has to deliver on Cllr Clancy’s pledge to save millions of pounds by renegotiating contracts the council has with Capita-Service Birmingham, for IT, and Amey for highways management.

Capita and Amey stand to lose money from this, and they are not very happy about that.

Appearing before a scrutiny committee, Stacey did not sound hopeful about changing the Amey Highways PFI contract to give greater decision making powers to councillors and communities.

Without going into too much detail in public, it would be quite difficult certainly in the case of the Amey contract because the Department of Transport and the banks would have to be part of the renegotiation.

You have to admire Cllr Stacey for his honesty, while wondering about the wisdom of being quite so blunt in a meeting streamed live on the web. Shortly after his comment, fellow Labour councillor Marj Bridle asked the cabinet member if he could look into an issue for her “while you are still there”. Everyone laughed. Some, rather nervously.

Stacey has also been tasked with making the council “more commercial”.

He told the scrutiny committee a review of all trading operations within the council would be carried out to identify opportunities for savings, increasing income streams from existing trading and opportunities for new trading.

One of the first actions of the recently established Commercialism Team will be to present a proposal seeking to develop and promote the need for council business to be carried out “in a more commercially minded way.”

Lest anyone should think for a moment that this might involve the council in making money, Cllr Stacey has his own definition of commercialism: “Although in the ‘commercial world’ commercialism is defined as ‘emphasis on the maximising of profit’, we can choose to consider profit in its widest sense including social value or benefit to citizens or society generally.”

It is highly likely there will be a cabinet reshuffle in May following the local elections, and assuming he sees off any leadership challenge it will be Cllr Clancy doing the shuffling.

Cllr Clancy needs to find ways of rewarding some of his key backers, but options at cabinet level are somewhat limited. My best guess is that Cllr Stacey will go alongside John Cotton, the cabinet member for neighbourhood management and homes. Cotton has been implicated in a possible leadership challenge to Clancy, but most people think this is unlikely.

Lisa Trickett, cabinet member for a green, smart and sustainable city, also known as cabinet member for bins, could be vulnerable. Her admission that the refuse collection service is “appalling” is not seen as particularly helpful by the Clancy camp, who also suspect her of harbouring a secret longing to introduce congestion charging.

Paulette Hamilton, who was handed the health and social care portfolio by former council leader Sir Albert Bore, hasn’t been in the job for very long. She may find herself replaced by a prominent Clancy supporter.

Penny Holbrook, cabinet member for skills, learning and culture, who came within a single vote of beating Clancy for the council leadership, may keep her place at the top table. She is said to have impressed Clancy and the two are closer now than has been the case in the past.

Shafique Shah, cabinet member for inclusion and community safety, will certainly remain in the cabinet having been a prominent force in the campaign to elect Clancy council leader.

The biggest questions are over the future of Ian Ward, the deputy leader, and Brigid Jones, cabinet member for children’s services.

Cllr Jones may be untouchable given the sensitivity of schools and children’s social care. Sacking her would be tantamount to admitting that the council’s reform agenda is not working.

A couple of months ago, Cllr Ward appeared a dead cert for the sack. Rumours were rife that he would be replaced by cabinet member Tahir Ali, who is close to Clancy. Ali, though, has always made it clear privately that he has no ambition to be leader or deputy.

The Clancy-Ward dynamic has changed since the beginning of the year and there is recognition of the value of retaining the deputy leader, for another year at least because he is an experienced and “safe pair of hands”. Ward has recently acquired and is driving around in a 65-plate Porsche, which is hardly the action of a man who fears losing a highly-paid cabinet post.

Chamberlain Files couldn’t help noticing an extraordinary bit of tardiness by the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership.

The organisation which is supposed to bring “business efficiency and know-how” to local government had fallen a year behind in posting minutes of board meetings on its website.

In fact, until a few days ago there were no records at all for minutes beyond March 2015.

We told GBSLEP about this and within 24 hours all board agendas and minutes up to January 2016 had appeared, which just goes to show the power of the Chamberlain Files.

Unfortunately there is still no sign of an agenda for the next board meeting on March 18, just a week away.

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