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End of an era: Paul Tilsley quits as Birmingham Liberal Democrat leader

End of an era: Paul Tilsley quits as Birmingham Liberal Democrat leader

🕔10.Jan 2016

Paul Tilsley, one of Birmingham’s longest-serving and biggest political personalities, has announced he is standing down as leader of the city council Liberal Democrat group.

Cllr Tilsley, 70, who was first elected to the council in 1968 and is in his 42nd year of service, said it was time to “pass the baton to a younger person”.

His decision is the latest example of the passing of Birmingham’s old political guard.

Sir Albert Bore, with 36 years’ service, lost the Labour group and council leadership at the end of 2015. Mike Whitby, the former Tory council leader, is now in the House of Lords.

Cllr Tilsley will continue to be a city councillor, and the Liberal Democrat group will meet at the end of the month to elect a successor.

He has been leader of the Lib Dem group since 2005 and was deputy council leader in the Tory-Lib Dem coalition from 2005 to 2012.

By far the best known Liberal Democrat in Birmingham, and arguably in the West Midlands, Cllr Tilsley will be remembered for his combative style and oratorical skills.

While deputy council leader with responsibility for making sure cabinet members did not overspend their budgets Tilsley would famously refer to “having a little chat in my office” – spending generally was kept under control as a result.

Council question time between 1999 and 2004, and again from 2012 to 2015, often boiled down to a war of attrition between Cllr Tilsley and Sir Albert Bore. There appeared to be little love lost between the two of them, in the chamber at least.

Relationships between Birmingham’s Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives under Mike Whitby were not always easy while the coalition was in office, but it is to Cllr Tilsley’s credit that blistering rows behind the scenes never became public.

In a letter to members of the Liberal Democrat group confirming his decision to stand down as leader at the end of January, Cllr Tilsley underlined the achievements he hopes to be remembered for – he set up an improvement board and a council audit committee in 2005, the first in Birmingham, and negotiated the Service Birmingham deal with Capita, which has saved the council a gross figure of £1 billion and, according to Cllr Tilsley, “transformed the council’s infrastructure internally and externally”.

He pointed out that under a previous system for measuring council performance, overseen by the Audit Commission, Birmingham rose under his stewardship from a one-star under-performing authority to three stars and rated ‘good’. Cllr Tilsley said:

It has been an honour and a privilege to lead the group and play a central role in the leadership of the largest local authority in Europe.

Jon Hunt, deputy leader of the Liberal Democrat group, paid tribute to Cllr Tilsley’s achievements:

Paul Tisley is a veteran of Birmingham politics with decades of experience as a city councillor and a long-standing reputation as a big hitter.

In his youth in the 1960s, he was a pioneer of what we know as community politics – an approach to looking after residents and working with communities that has been a major inspiration for people such as myself and for the Liberal Democrats as a whole.

We all look forward to him finding new roles and we in the Liberal Democrats need to ensure we continue to benefit from his experience and knowledge.

He was deputy leader of the council during the years of the Progressive Partnership, which is fondly remembered by many residents, particularly in the light of the chaos of the last three years under Labour.

Leading us in opposition, he has kept us together in a time of severe pressure and led a group that has proved itself effective in opposition – in spite of setbacks.

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