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Dale’s Diary: WMCA job-share deal adds fuel to council leadership contest

Dale’s Diary: WMCA job-share deal adds fuel to council leadership contest

🕔25.Apr 2016

The West Midlands Combined Authority’s poor reputation for communications gets no better.

Much was made a month or so ago about WMCA’s frugal decision to appoint ‘part-time unpaid’ acting chief executives in the shape of Coventry city council CEO Martin Reeves and his Sandwell counterpart Jan Britton.

All well and good, except that the exact working arrangements for Mr Reeves have come to light and it is clear there is rather more to the part-time status than hitherto revealed.

When confirming his WMCA appointment, Coventry council leader Ann Lucas said Mr Reeves would be working 18-hour days to run both the city council and the combined authority. What she didn’t say then, but has been confirmed since, was that Mr Reeves will work unpaid for WMCA an average two days a week and when he is there his responsibilities in Coventry will pass to Executive Director of Place Martin Yardley, who has been appointed acting chief executive.

In an email to councillors on March 11, Reeves and Lucas confirmed Yardley’s appointment:

It is important and helpful for a city council and city that is moving on at such high pace to have a ‘go to’ senior manager here when I’m on combined authority business.

So the Leader of the council, Cllr Ann Lucas OBE and I have asked Martin Yardley, our Executive Director of Place to take on the role of Acting Chief Executive.

This means that whenever I am not in the Council House and/or when I am committed on West Midlands Combined Authority business, Martin will have full authority to make any decisions as necessary.

As you can imagine, there are still lots of practical issues to work through and detail to be discussed but as this becomes clearer, I will of course keep you updated on a regular basis.

The details of the appointment were broken by the Coventry Observer, and a political storm ensued.

Opposition Conservative councillors are furious about losing Reeves for two days a week and claim that the chief executive should be at his desk in Coventry, particularly as he is paid £175,000 a year.

The decision has also angered Labour councillors who are opposed to Coventry’s membership of WMCA and are plotting a leadership challenge following next month’s city council elections. Former deputy council leader George Duggins will challenge Lucas for the top job.

The entire episode couldn’t have happened in a worse place. Opposition to the combined authority and metro mayor is greater in Coventry than anywhere else in the West Midlands, according to public consultation.

However, while Coventry remains uncomfortable with its WMCA membership there are reliable reports that Warwickshire county council is on the brink of changing its mind by deciding to join the combined authority after all. Shropshire council is also expected to follow Telford and Wrekin by becoming WMCA’s sixth non-constituent member.

It’s all getting a bit heated in genteel Sutton Coldfield.

Four years ago, the ‘Royal Borough’ was shaken to its Tory core when Labour’s Rob Pocock managed to get elected as a city councillor for Sutton Vesey. The town was plunged into a state of shock hardly witnessed since the death of Queen Victoria, and hasn’t quite recovered.

On May 5, Pocock is up for re-election against Conservative candidate Suzanne Webb in a ‘must win’ seat for both sides. And as befits a modern political contest, Labour and the Tories are engaged in a Twitter war of attrition.

Most unfortunately for Pocock, mid-way through his campaign the Government decided to endorse the Birmingham Development Plan (BDP), which permits construction of up to 6,000 houses on the Sutton Coldfield green belt – cue general wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Pocock attempted a shot across the bows of his opponents by declaring on Twitter: “Conservative Government approve Sutton green belt building. Now let’s see an end to all this rubbish blaming Labour.”

But as the Tories were quick to point out, the BDP was drawn up and approved by the Labour-controlled city council of which Pocock is a member.

There then appeared on Twitter a curious exchange in which Pocock suggested it would be a good thing if his Tory opponents were “dead and buried”.

He was replying to a conversation about a Sutton Coldfield ghost walk.

Retired Birmingham city council officer David Homer got in on the act, and tweeted: “Featuring former Conservative councillors. Spooky lot!”

To which Pocock replied: “Shame not all dead and buried yet, but they are falling down fast.”

Homer replied that Pocock should delete his remark, which was probably good advice.

The incident angered Ewan Mackey, chairman of the Sutton Coldfield Conservative Association, who thundered:

The comments made by Cllr Pocock, where he bemoaned the fact that all the Sutton Coldfield councillors were not dead, was as much surprising as it was hurtful to many of my colleagues.

Even if Cllr Pocock doesn’t like us he should respect that residents voted for us and we are doing our best to represent them and wishing us all dead doesn’t do anything towards getting the bins collected regularly, the road surfaces improved or any of the other tasks that the residents want us to be concentrating on.

Asked by Chamberlain Files to comment, Cllr Pocock explained that the “dead and buried” tweet exchange occurred three years ago and he is at a loss to understand why it has been “dredged up” now.

He is keen to stress that when he said “dead and buried” he meant this in a political sense rather than literally, and he apologised at the time to Anne Underwood, Tory chair of the Sutton District Committee.

Cllr Pocock added:

I wrote a humble letter explaining that I have no plans to assassinate any Conservative councilors and apologised for the fact that her colleagues don’t have a sense of humour.

Last word, for now, to Cllr Mackey:

I am not aware of an official apology and neither are other councillors.

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