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Dangerous days for Sir Albert as Kerslake Review implications sink in

Dangerous days for Sir Albert as Kerslake Review implications sink in

🕔12.Jan 2015

Sir Albert Bore is facing the most dangerous few weeks since he became Birmingham council Labour group leader 15 years ago with his chances of surviving the highly critical Kerlaske Review now being openly discussed at both political and officer level.

Chamberlain Files has learned that a senior council officer is canvassing contacts about Sir Albert’s chances of being re-elected Labour and council leader at the annual group meeting in May, where he will again be challenged by backbencher John Clancy.

Meanwhile, a respected Labour figure in Birmingham is considering a request to chair a public meeting in the council chamber to discuss the Kerslake Review in a move that may be seen as a direct attack on Sir Albert’s authority.

Promoters of the meeting are said to be cross-party representatives and “not the anti-cuts brigade or the loony left” who are deeply concerned about the damage to Birmingham’s reputation caused by a combination of Kerlake’s findings of widespread failure, the imposition of a council improvement board, and the continuing inadequacy of children’s social services.

Efforts by backbenchers to hold a special council meeting to discuss the Kerlsake Review and its 11 recommendations were rebuffed by Sir Albert, who refused to place the item on the agenda at the January council meeting.

Labour councillors failed to persuade Sir Albert to change his mind and it was left to the opposition Conservative group to put down a resolution at the meeting enabling a brief discussion on Kerslake to take place.

During the debate, Sir Albert spoke about Kerslake with noticeable under-statement by announcing that the review had “taken a bit of the shine off the city council and Birmingham’s “success story”. He accused Sir Bob Kerslake of using out of date statistics on economic growth when comparing Birmingham to other cities.

Matters have been brought to a head by Sir Albert’s insistence that a formal plan to implement the Kerslake recommendations must be drawn up in the first place by him and the cabinet – a strategy that would appear to deny the remaining 112 councillors any say over putting the document together.

There is a feeling of deep unease not just in the controlling Labour group but also among Conservative and Liberal Democrat councillors that Kerslake’s criticisms of failings over many years, and the governance changes he recommends, are so serious that a response must be discussed thoroughly by the entire council.

A recent appearance by Sir Albert appearance at the main scrutiny committee prompted rare criticism from two traditional Bore loyalists.

Carl Rice, the committee chair, reminded Sir Albert that the Kerslake Review calls on every council member to take personal responsibility for improvement. “He highlighted an over-reliance on leadership,” Rice added, ominously.

Rice pointed out that councillors of all parties wanted to contribute: “There’s an awful lot of experience among the 120 members. They want to be part of the solution. Leadership has to understand that desire.”

Former Lord Mayor Mike Leddy described Kerlsake as “the most critical report I have seen in a long time” which clearly called for a change in culture. And in a direct attack on Sir Albert, who drew up the council’s current constitution two years ago, Cllr Leddy said: “Not many people know who is responsible for whatever service.”

The council has been given a deadline of March 1 by Communities Secretary Eric Pickles to approve an implementation plan, or run the risk of the Government sending in commissioners to take over.

Even so, Sir Albert is insisting that most of the Kerslake recommendations cannot be addressed until the annual council meeting in May in a move seen by some as a delaying tactic to protect his own position until after the annual Labour group meeting where he hopes to be re-elected leader.

A mutinous atmosphere in a Council House reeling from Kerslake’s criticisms, massive cuts in public spending, a continuing programme of redundancies and acute uncertainty about the future, was described by one councillor as “like the stench of rotting carcasses”.

Matters were made worse when Sir Albert appeared before the main scrutiny committee to announce that district committee budgets would be brought back under the control of the cabinet – effectively putting paid to the committees’ role as local services providers.

Other events contributing to the deepening crisis include:

  • Birmingham’s Labour MPs are in open revolt over the council’s £35 annual charge to collect green waste from households, dubbed a garden tax by critics, and have urged Sir Albert to scrap the fee. He has refused.
  • Labour is facing difficult council elections in May where the seats of several cabinet members may be at stake, particularly deputy leader Ian Ward in Shard End where Ukip is mounting a strong challenge. James McKay is also vulnerable in Harborne as well as possibly Stewart Stacey in Acocks Green and Brigid Jones in Selly Oak.
  • The search for £72 million of spending cuts is likely to involve slashing opening hours and sacking 100 members of staff at the Library of Birmingham, and the possibility of charging people to visit the Museum and Art Gallery has not been ruled out.

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