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Lord Mayor Ray Hassall – the proud Brummie from West Brom

Lord Mayor Ray Hassall – the proud Brummie from West Brom

🕔19.May 2015

Birmingham’s new Lord Mayor Ray Hassall is to all intents and purposes the archetypal Brummie.

A character, who is passionately proud of his city and never short of an opinion or two, keen to do what he can to help those that are less fortunate. He should make a great first citizen.

But actually, strictly speaking, Cllr Hassall isn’t a Brummie at all.

He was born 72 years ago over the border in West Bromwich before moving to Great Barr at an early age. He then went with his family to live in Canada when he was 14, before returning to the UK three years later to join the army.

Keep fit fanatic, marathon runner, ballet and opera buff, Hassall has been a Liberal Democrat councillor for Perry Barr for 25 years and is a former cabinet member for leisure, sport and culture, although that posting didn’t go so well for him.

He was effectively sacked by the Liberal Democrat group in 2009, and his cabinet spot was given to the far more publicity conscious Moseley councillor Martin Mullaney.

Hassall became unpopular after taking some tough decisions, but with the benefit of hindsight it can be seen that many of the difficulties he faced as cabinet member were insurmountable.

He approved a 25 per cent increase in green fees at municipal golf courses, to the fury of colleagues, but he had been prevented at the time by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition from moving down the obvious road of contracting out the loss making courses to private operators – that decision came later.

As cabinet member he bravely resisted Cllr Mullaney’s demands to restore fully the dilapidated Moseley Road swimming baths, citing the huge financial cost of doing so. This principled stand probably cost Hassall his job more than anything else.

He was also criticised for failing to deliver the then council leader Mike Whitby’s pet project of an Olympic size swimming pool for Birmingham. Ray Hassall just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, for it was never remotely likely that the council could find the means to build a pool and a new library, and as events transpired it is clear that the money was never really there for either scheme.

There were also clashes with Cllr Mullaney over graffiti in the city’s parks. Mullaney believed graffiti artists should be encouraged at locations set aside for their hobby. Cllr Hassall took the view that abstract paintings on walls and pavements were an affront to Birmingham’s civic pride.

On the plus side, Hassall took the opportunity as cabinet member to reinstate the Birmingham half marathon and duly competed in it. The race has become a centrepiece of the city’s sporting offer.

After losing his cabinet post an amicable understanding was reached with Cllr Mullaney, who rewarded Cllr Hassall by appointing him Birmingham’s unofficial cultural ambassador. This enabled Hassall to attend all of the highbrow opera and arts events that Mullaney wouldn’t have been seen dead at. Both men were satisfied with the outcome.

During his year as Lord Mayor Cllr Hassall will raise money for Cancer Research, the MS society, Fishers and Birmingham Trees for Life. He has told how he lost both his son and sister to cancer in recent years.

Cllr Hassall replaces Shafique Shah as Lord Mayor. He became Lord Mayor during the annual mayor making meeting of the Council this afternoon.

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