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Dale’s Diary: WMCA v ‘Greater Birmingham’ and the Battle for Albert’s Diary

Dale’s Diary: WMCA v ‘Greater Birmingham’ and the Battle for Albert’s Diary

🕔08.Jul 2015

Mark Rogers, chief executive at Birmingham city council for the past 16 months, has developed a stoical gallows sense of humour. And who can blame him for trying to spread a little happiness?

On the subject of the West Midlands Combined Authority (actually, it’s really called Greater Birmingham Combined Authority but don’t tell anyone) Rogers felt compelled to enter into a lively Twitter debate with people who clearly don’t understand the nuances of the naming ritual.

Asked why on earth the new body is to be called ‘West Midlands’ when very few people have a clue where or what the West Midlands is, Rogers replied: “Greater Birmingham would have been nice, but it’s not the decision that’s been taken. Anyway, it’s fun to be at the WMCA!”

Fun to be at the WMCA, eh? Oh how I wish I’d written that.

Of course Greater Birmingham would have been nice, not to say highly appropriate.

Indeed, such a name would have been instantly recognisable outside of the Midlands, but it was not adopted because some of the seven council leaders forming the combined authority dislike Birmingham and weren’t grown up enough to put their parochial concerns to one side for the greater good.

Not to worry. Apparently the name West Midlands Combined Authority is solely for “governance purposes”.

Rogers explained:

“Politics: the art of the possible. And we’ve only named the governance mechanism. I understand the challenge – but what we call the governance is not the same as how we describe our competitive positioning.

These things require patience and, yes, compromise. And, anyway, the WMCA is not our marketing tag.

He noted that the West Midlands councils attended this year’s MIPIM property fair in Cannes for a week of competitive positioning under the Greater Birmingham banner and “it’ll be the same next year too”.

Oddly, there is nothing about the difference between a governance name and a competitive positioning name in the West Midlands combined authority prospectus. Nor is there a single mention in the document of Greater Birmingham, other than when the Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP is mentioned.

Let’s hope the Treasury civil servants who will be advising the Chancellor on whether or not to approve combined authority status know where the West Midlands is. Or, possibly, they will have been furnished with special Greater Birmingham competitive positioning copies.

You can’t keep the ever enthusiastic Rogers down, though.

Commenting on the failure to live-stream the monthly Birmingham city council meeting, he had this to say:

“Apologies; the webcasting system has gone to digital heaven. Back to traditional methods of communication. Release the pigeons.””

And to think that Rogers’ predecessor Steven Hughes was thought to be a bit wacky because he once told staff to generate ideas by making origami butterflies.

 

One of the informal tests set by the independent Birmingham improvement panel to gauge whether politicians really ‘get’ the Kerslake Review and the urgent need for reform was whether cross party agreement could be reached on a submission to the Boundary Commission over the future size of the city council.

If Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat councillors could put their differences aside on such a contentious issue then there must be a fair chance of co-operation to deliver the Future Council plan.

Sadly, Birmingham has reverted to type.

Not only did cross-party agreement prove impossible to achieve, the submissions sent to the Boundary Commission are regarded as top secret documents the contents of which are classified on a need to know basis. And the public clearly doesn’t need to know.

The Boundary Commission will publish its recommendation for the size of the city council on July 21.

The smart money is on 80 councillors, down from 120 at present.

As Chamberlain Files reported last month, the council’s initial ‘draft’ submission to the commission, or more accurately daft submission, went down like a lead balloon. Please may we keep 120 councillors at least, or better still have 150 councillors? The commission told the council not to be so silly and to think again.

The three party leaders met recently to discuss a new and final submission. One suggestion, a proposal of between 100 and 110 councillors, was discussed and rejected. Council leader Sir Albert Bore, I am told, proposed 100 councillors with a review in two years’ time, and that was approved as the council’s submission.

The Conservative group sent in a detailed separate submission outlining a future council operating model which would see district committees abolished, the formation of a sixth scrutiny committee for housing, and a council with between 110 and 120 members.

Meanwhile, the Labour group representing almost three-quarters of the city council, remains blissfully unaware of the latest formal submission. One backbencher tells me “we only ever discussed this once and generally decided to go for 120 or more”.

Perhaps the future size of the council will be discussed more urgently by Labour councillors. Oh, hang on, the next Labour group meeting isn’t scheduled until September.

Breaking News: the first salvos have been fired in the Battle for Albert’s Diary.

Liberal Democrat leader Paul Tilsley asked at the full council meeting whether the leader of Birmingham city council would publish his diary. This is believed to be a none too subtle trick to expose the amount of time Sir Albert Bore spends on EU business in Brussels.

Unsurprisingly, Bore refused claiming “I do have the right to a private life”.

Cllr Victoria Quinn, aka Lady Bore, was heard to mutter “even I don’t have his diary so why should you lot?”

Goodness me, what on earth is in the diary? Surely the contents could be published with the more, er, sensitive parts redacted?

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