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John Lines launches homeless shelter plan as Lord Mayor row continues

John Lines launches homeless shelter plan as Lord Mayor row continues

🕔31.Jan 2012

Birmingham’s Tory housing chief John Lines has taken steps to show his softer side as a political row rumbles on about his suitability to become Lord Mayor in May.

Right-winger Lines has often been accused by Labour of not doing enough to help homeless people, but he hit back by announcing a rescue plan to allow rough sleepers to take overnight shelter at the city’s Salvation Army headquarters during the current cold snap.

With night time temperatures on course to plummet sharply below zero, anyone without a roof over their heads will be able to go to the William Booth Centre where they will be given something to eat, a place indoors to rest for the night and a hot breakfast the following morning.

It is far from clear whether Coun Lines’s humanitarian offer will convince the 56-strong Labour group to vote in favour of him becoming Lord Mayor. He is being proposed by the council’s ruling Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition, eleven years after his mayoral nomination was embarrassingly rejected.

In 2001, Labour and Liberal Democrat councillors refused to accept Coun Lines as Lord Mayor, arguing that he was too right wing and divisive for Birmingham. This time, the Liberal Democrat group will support  Coun Lines’s nomination, claiming that his performance as cabinet housing member since 2004 has produced a changed man.

The Labour group is yet to decide which way to vote when the city council meets to nominate a Lord Mayor-elect. Sources report widespread opposition among a significant number of Labour councillors.

Labour group leader Sir Albert Bore is keen to defuse what could be a volatile council meeting and is likely to seek a compromise which could involve Labour councillors abstaining, effectively allowing the Tory-Lib Dem coalition to use its 63 votes to select Coun Lines.

Coun Lines held a brief meeting with Sir Albert at the end of this week’s cabinet meeting in an effort to discover Labour’s likely attitude to his nomination as Lord Mayor.

Significantly, Coun Lines was at pains during the cabinet meeting to stress his successes in tackling homelessness and his achievements in building new council houses in Birmingham for the first time since the 1970s.

He pointed out that there are now only 30 households in emergency bed and breakfast accommodation, compared to figures in the hundreds in the early 2000s.

Coun Lines added: “Sadly, at the moment we have nine individuals who have been counted as rough sleepers. That is nine too many, but considerably lower than it has been and it compares favourably with other Core Cities.”

He said the council had prevented over 4,000 households from becoming homeless in the past year by working closely with charities and the voluntary sector.

Announcing his plan to offer rough sleepers emergency overnight accommodation, Coun Lines said: “We’ve beefed-up our resources to accommodate those sleeping on the streets at a time when temperatures are predicted to dip to at least minus five.

“This facility is a lifeline. It gives people a roof over their heads and a hot meal in their stomach.  Both are essential elements for survival and will no doubt be a welcome respite for those who need this service.

“Preparations have been put in place which includes advising outreach teams and referral agencies so those who need these services have access to them.”

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