Labour will encourage schools to replace GCSEs with a Birmingham Baccalaureate, equipping pupils with “the skills required by today’s employers”, if the party takes control of the city council in May.
The initiative is to be developed in partnership with Birmingham Chamber of Commerce and the city’s universities, Labour group leader Sir Albert Bore confirmed when launching his manifesto for the local elections.
Other pledges in what Sir Albert called the most comprehensive set of policy proposals to be put before the electorate by Labour in a generation include:
- Building 70,000 new public and private sector homes by 2026 to meet the needs of a fast-growing population.
- Appointing a ‘Victims Champion’ to work with the new Police and Crime Panel, standing up for the rights of those affected by crime.
- Expanding Birmingham’s network of extra care villages for elderly people.
- Negotiating with the Government for the power to directly manage Whitehall transport funds.
Labour had already announced previously plans to create 6,000 manufacturing jobs at the former Alstom/LDV site in Washwood Heath, as well as establishing economic growth zones and devolving delivery of basic local services to Birmingham’s 10 constituency committees.
Sir Albert said it was clear that employers were unhappy at the level of skills being attained by school leavers. A step-change in performance was required in many schools and a carefully drawn up Baccalaureate would “deliver the skills needed to get people into work”.
He gave the example of an academy school in Birmingham which had dropped woodwork lessons from its curriculum to be replaced by computer programming. This was a common-sense approach to the changing requirements of modern employers, he added.
Labour would bring together business and academia to introduce a “Birmingham Standard for Achievement” that would put enterprise centre-stage, with a network of schools specialising in educating “our entrepreneurs of tomorrow”, Sir Albert said.
The commitment to build 70,000 new homes between 2006 and 2026 represents an increase of about 25 per cent on the council’s current target, and could be prove to be controversial.
The figure is above the upper end of projections suggested in the Regional Spatial Strategy (RSS), which has been abandoned by the Government. Environmental groups produced evidence at the public inquiry into the RSS warning that building so many homes would inevitably involve incursion into the green belt and sensitive rural locations.
An average of little more 1,000 new dwellings a year is being built in Birmingham at the moment, as the construction industry grapples with the fallout from recession. Labour’s target, if it is to be achieved, would mean an average of more than 3,000 new homes each year over the 20-year period, a level not seen since the immediate post-war period.
The figure is based on projections for housing need being drawn up by planners for the council’s Core Strategy document, which will be published later this year.
Sir Albert said: “We think Birmingham is going to need something like 70,000 new homes, whether they are to buy or to rent. The council will have to work with private sector providers and housing associations to ensure that demand is met.”
He pointed out that the council was in a position to drive house building forward because of its extensive land ownership in Birmingham, but was careful to avoid giving any commitment not to build on the green belt or greenfield sites.
The council would work with the construction industry and housing partnerships to deliver the 70,000 figure, he added.
Promising a “new deal for council tenants”, Sir Albert said a Labour-run council would adopt a zero-tolerance approach to anti-social behaviour and nuisance neighbours, which would be enforced through localised neighbourhood management teams.
The manifesto launch was accompanied by numerous warnings about the “financial shambles” the council finds itself in. In an apparent attempt to dampen expectations, Sir Albert said it would be impossible to be sure about the state of the local authority’s balance sheet until Labour took control.
He accused Birmingham’s Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition delaying decisions about the £400 million spending cuts demanded by the Government. It was a difficult problem that Labour would inherit and have to deal with.
“We will be taking control when the financial coffers have run dry,” Sir Albert added.
The manifesto was based on the findings of a series of policy commissions and drawn up with input from Birmingham’s eight Labour MPs, the first time that the council group has worked so closely with members of parliament. However, there appears to have been no direct input from former Erdington MP Sion Simon, seen by many as the front runner for nomination as Labour’s candidate for elected mayor of Birmingham.
Mr Simon has already launched 10 proposed policy pledges, which include building 20,000 homes in four years and creating 30,000 new jobs. If he succeeds in becoming mayor, he would take over in November some six months after the May 3 civic elections which could propel Sir Albert to the council leadership.
That would result in Mr Simon’s administration inheriting major policy changes put in place by Sir Albert, in particular the move to a Birmingham Baccalaureate and devolution of council services.
Sir Albert, who is also seeking his party’s nomination to run for mayor, said: “Every Labour member in Birmingham has been able to make a contribution to the manifesto. This will be a policy for Labour and a policy for a Labour-run council.
“This will form a policy bedrock that a Labour mayoral candidate will wish to take forward.”
* The Labour Party needs to win just four of the 40 seats being contested on May 3 to win an overall majority and take control of Birmingham City Council for the first time since 2004.
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