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Introducing Birmingham’s old boys and girls club

Introducing Birmingham’s old boys and girls club

🕔05.Nov 2012

Savage spending cuts may be threatening the end of local government as we know it, but for an elite collection of politicians the good times have never quite gone away.

Sixty-nine former city councillors enjoy a perk that most people would give their back teeth for – a lifetime of free car parking in the very centre of Birmingham.

The long-serving ex-councillors, known as Honorary Aldermen, can use a secure underground car park beneath the Council House, a privilege worth at least £2,000 a year.

What’s been dubbed the ‘old boys and girls club’ share the facility with 120 city councillors and some of the council’s senior officers.

The parking perk is made possible by Local Government Act 1972, which allows a council to confer the title of Honorary Alderman on former councillors who have rendered “eminent services”.

This requires a resolution passed by not less than two thirds of the members voting on it at a meeting of the council specially convened for the purpose.

Once elected, a former councillor retains the title Honorary Alderman in perpetuity – and in Birmingham’s case, gets a free parking pass for life as well.

The council is currently battling to identify a total of £600 million in spending cuts, but a spokesman said he could place no value on the parking perk since use of the car park is not logged. No records are maintained to calculate the actual use by Honorary Aldermen, councillors and chief officers.

Since the council owns the car park it does not pay directly for the free passes. However, the cost of an annual season ticket for 24-hour access to a city centre car park can be as much as £2,500, and the figure is likely to be higher for a secure facility.

All vehicles entering the Council House car park have to be checked through a barrier at the Edmund Street entrance by a security guard. The car park itself has CCTV cameras and is patrolled.

The council spokesman added: “All Honorary Aldermen have access to the underground car park, but there are no designated spaces. Therefore they do not have priority over other users, and if the car park is full, they have to go elsewhere to park.

“No log is kept of usage by Honorary Aldermen, so it is not possible to calculate the financial worth of the privilege in practice.”

A 24-hour season ticket at Paradise Circus multi-storey car park costs £2,065. At Snow Hill car park the cost is £2,376, while at the Town Hall car park it is £2,560.

Honorary Aldermen are entitled to council stationery and business cards, but are not given office space or use of council computers, the spokesman added. However, nine Honorary Aldermen have a email address which they access through their own computers. The council does not provide IT back-up support.

The first Honorary Aldermen in Birmingham were appointed in 1974. Special council meetings to confer the honours normally take place once a year after the May local government elections.

To qualify for the title, former councillors must have 15 years of service, or have served for at least 12 years and given “particularly notable service” such as being the chairman of a major committee.

The title ‘Alderman’ goes back to 1835. Aldermen would be elected not by the electorate, but by the council (including the outgoing aldermen), for a term of six years, which allowed a party that narrowly lost an election to retain control by choosing aldermen.

The act was changed in 1910, so that outgoing aldermen were no longer allowed to vote. Aldermen were finally abolished in 1974, but live on today in Birmingham as honorary positions.

More than 160 people have been appointed Honorary Aldermen in Birmingham, representing a cross-section of the city’s political elite. Sixty-nine are still alive today, with names from more recent times including former planning committee chairman David Roy, former licensing committee chairman David Osborne and former executive cabinet member for children’s services, Len Clark.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici /

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