Holbrook offers council a fresh start from ‘someone whose never wanted top job’
Penny Holbrook is the latest contender battling to become the next Labour leader of Birmingham city council, even though she says she’s never had any personal ambition for the top job.
In a 1,250-word manifesto, the Stockland Green councillor sets out a change agenda and is careful to emphasise that the council has to spread economic wealth out from the central core to the suburbs and “make sure our neighbourhoods and communities are as well off and vibrant as the city centre”.
Cllr Holbrook threw her hat into the ring hours before nominations to replace Sir Albert Bore as Labour group leader formally opened. She joins John Clancy, Ian Ward, Barry Henley and Mike Leddy in the race.
Her decision to stand is seen as another blow for Cllr Leddy since Holbrook, rightly or wrongly, is regarded by many as the ‘Boreite candidate’ ready to carry on most of Sir Albert’s work, albeit with a modernising ‘change’ approach.
It’s thought she may take support away from Leddy and Ian Ward, the deputy leader who told Chamberlain Files he wanted “change, but not too much change”. Supporters of John Clancy may also be looking nervously at Holbrook, the only woman in the race, who seems certain to pick up centre ground support.
Cllr Holbrook is the cabinet member for skills, learning and culture and has had to deal with controversial £1.3 million cuts to the Library of Birmingham budget, which comes under her brief.
Her leadership manifesto has the title ‘A fresh start for Birmingham’.
She promises to “build a city where everyone’s voice is heard and everyone’s part of the exciting future ahead”.
It’s clear to me from the number of Labour members and partners across the city who have approached me there is a huge desire for real change in our city.
And there’s a warning that if the council fails to see through the Kerslake Review reforms it runs a real risk of being taken over by “Tory government commissioners”.
Cllr Holbrook admits:
Standing for the leadership of our council is not something I ever thought would be required of me. It is not something I have ever had a personal ambition for.
She says that Birmingham has “come a long way in the last 20 years, but we’re not yet a city where everyone gets to share in the good times”.
Cllr Holbrook sets out the following priorities:
- We need a city safe for our children and families. Our most basic job as a council is making sure the vulnerable are protected. The plans are in place, the changes are starting to come. We will not let anything sway us.
- We must deliver the improvement residents deserve. We will take responsibility for the failings set out in the Kerslake report, be passionate about improvement, and most importantly bring along the wider city, so everyone’s talents are used.
- We have to set an honest, balanced budget. We will learn the lessons from the General Election and show we can be financially responsible while protecting those most in need. We will be honest about what the future looks like, be clear that Tory cuts have consequences, and set out a clear vision for Birmingham City Council in 2020.
- Every resident of Birmingham deserves a decent job. Labour exists to fight inequality. The best way to do that is to make sure everyone can access a decent job. That can’t be delivered overnight, but we’ve worked to put the foundations in place.
- We need a combined authority delivering the best possible devolution. Birmingham’s economy doesn’t stop at the Scott Arms or the Maypole. Our fortunes are tied up with the wider West Midlands. So while we may not always be comfortable with exactly how the government is going about the process, we will never, ever forget the bigger picture. When the region wins, Birmingham residents win too.
- We must have a different way of doing business in the city. We already do some great work with partners, and we will go much further. Birmingham needs everyone in the city – residents, businesses, faith groups, voluntary groups, and the wider public sector. That’s what real partnership is about. Our duty is to deliver the best for Birmingham, seeing ourselves as a part of a wider city leadership, confident in our ability to influence and shape the bigger agenda.
She sets out her personal credo:
“I know what it’s like when life is tough, because I’ve been there. The council I lead will never, ever forget that you judge a society, not by those at the top, but by how it stands together with the most vulnerable.
“Economic growth is vital to getting Birmingham back on its feet, but growth that isn’t shared with everyone, is just another missed opportunity.
“Whilst the city centre is hugely important to Birmingham and the region’s economy, I want to live in a Birmingham where our neighbourhoods and communities are as well off and vibrant as the city centre . I want to live in a Birmingham where we work together with everyone to build a life for all our residents.”
She is promising “a different style of leadership” and warns: “I can’t and won’t be a traditional council leader managing great chunks of delivery. I am a leader who empowers others, working together to bring out the best so together we can deliver change.
“I will be a leader visible across the city, not just in the city centre, fighting with local members for every Birmingham community. I will ensure I am not only in your neighbourhoods with you, but that the decisions we make at the council work for as many residents as possible.”
Picking up on the Kerslake theme of better partnership working by the council, Holbrook says: “A council leader is one amongst a number of city leaders. Birmingham needs to return to the time of many civic leaders, sharing one vision and speaking with one voice.”
The 78 Labour councilors meet on November 23 to elect a new leader.
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