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Labour in Chamberlain Files ‘leaks’ probe

Labour in Chamberlain Files ‘leaks’ probe

🕔15.May 2012
Birmingham City Council House by Yeoville Thom...

Labour has launched a leaks inquiry into how the Chamberlain Files managed to obtain the line-up of the new Birmingham City Council cabinet before details were formally announced.

The party’s chief whip, Mike Leddy, was said by colleagues to be “furious” when members of the cabinet and scrutiny committee chairmen were revealed on the Chamberlain Files’ Twitter account in the middle of the annual Labour group meeting.

One person who was at the AGM said: “Leddy is threatening to call people in and quiz them if he finds out who was responsible. He’s told the whole group that there’s to be an inquiry, and he’s warned ‘what’s in the family must stay in the family’.”

The source added that an official in the office of Labour council leader Sir Albert Bore has been given the task of monitoring the Chamberlain Files throughout the day.

Leddy’s sensitivity can perhaps be explained by Sir Albert’s decision to shake-up his top team in a move that stunned the Labour group and left at least one person whose hopes of high office were dashed in tears.

It wasn’t quite a night of the long knives, an evening of the short blades more like. But the line-up does contain a number of surprise appointments, and some controversial omissions.

Sir Albert was able for the first time to appoint his cabinet rather than relying on an electoral process. Two big shocks straight away: no cabinet posts for Catharine Grundy or long-time Bore supporter Muhammad Afzal.

Grundy, who was shadow cabinet member for schools and children, put her name forward for the cabinet but was rejected in favour of Brigid Jones, who has only been on the council for a year.

Afzal, who was shadow cabinet member for equalities and human resources, was overlooked in favour of John Cotton who picks up the new portfolio of social cohesion and equalities.

Coun Afzal has been appointed chairman of the new Employment Matters Committee, but will remain outside of the cabinet.

The decision to hand Brigid Jones the hugely important schools portfolio, and to make Harborne councillor James McKay the cabinet member for green issues, surprised most Labour councillors. Both were elected to the council in 2011 and are among the least experienced in the Labour team.

One person who was at the annual meeting said: “I think you could say there was stunned silence when we discovered that Brigid Jones and James McKay were to be in the cabinet. Brigid Jones is now in charge of schools, but she’s not long been out of school herself.”

Sources close to Sir Albert suggested that Coun Jones and Coun McKay were rewarded for impressive performances at scrutiny committees.

There were no places in the new line-up either for shadow cabinet members Shafique Shah and Narinder Kooner.

The other cabinet members are: Tahir Ali (Nechlls) Development, Jobs, Skills; Steve Bedser (Kings Norton) Health; John Cotton (Shard End) Social Cohesion and Equalities; Stewart Stacey (Acocks Green) Commissioning, Contracting and Improvement.

The line-up appears to contravene the Labour group rules which state that the cabinet should reflect the ethnic shape of Birmingham. Tahir Ali is the only ethnic minority member of the eight-person cabinet, leaving Labour open to the same allegations of white favouritism that were levelled against the outgoing Tory-Lib Dem cabinet.

Elections for scrutiny committee chairmanships resulted in wholesale changes, with several victories for the anti-Bore faction grouped around Quinton councillor John Clancy.

The scrutiny committee chairmen are: Susan Barnett (Billesley) ; Ian Cruise (Longbridge) ; Majid Mahmood (Hodge Hill) ; Victoria Quinn (Sparkbrook) ; Lisa Trickett (Moseley);  Waseem Zaffar (Lozells); Anita Ward (Hodge Hill).

Shadow scrutiny committee chairmen who now find themselves out of a job include Martin Straker-Welds (Moseley), Tim Evans (Hodge Hill), Gurdial Singh Atwall (Handsworth Wood), Penny Holbrook (Stockland Green) and Matthew Gregson (Quinton).

Other key appointments include Coun Mike Sharpe (Tyburn) as Planning Committee chairman, Coun Barbara Dring (Oscott) Licensing Committee chairman and Coun Shafique Shah (Bordelsey Green) Audit committee chairman. Ladywood councillor Carl Rice is the head of scrutiny.

The cabinet and scrutiny positions reflect a new cross-departmental approach devised by Sir Albert. Cabinet members have been given responsibilities that cut across traditional local authority demarcations. The aim, according to Sir Albert, is to get rid of ‘silo’ mentality and to encourage lateral thinking.

Sir Albert said: “This has been a difficult choice. The new Labour Group contains many talented people.

“I’ve focused on those experienced councillors who will be able to push forward our manifesto commitments to make Birmingham Britain’s Enterprise Capital as a smart, green, safe and fair city. I know that they will have the support of every Labour councillor and those who voted for radical Labour change at this month’s council elections.”

Sir Albert published a brief explanation of the new cabinet portfolios. The Development, Jobs and Skills member, Tahir Ali, would have the responsibility for “translating the vision to make Birmingham the enterprise capital of Britain, by growing businesses, creating jobs, lifting people into work and better wages, and ensuring the young people of the city are equipped with the right skills to match those needed in the market”.

The Social Cohesion and Equalities member, John Cotton, would be responsible for “promoting services to reduce deprivation across the city, whether these are delivered by the city council itself, partner agencies, private or third sector organisations”.

The cabinet member for a Green, Safe and Smart City, James McKay, would be responsible for creating “an environment and sustainable infrastructure where people and businesses can flourish”.

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