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Power and glory: Sir Albert’s Labour jobs handout a ‘game of political chess’

Power and glory: Sir Albert’s Labour jobs handout a ‘game of political chess’

🕔14.May 2015

Birmingham city council’s controlling Labour group meets this Saturday to conduct a fascinating ritual – the handing out of positions of power and influence, and much sought after attendance allowances, to councillors writes Paul Dale.

There are 79 Labour councillors in the running for 51 jobs ranging from members of the cabinet to scrutiny and regulatory committee chairs and places on the West Midlands transport committee, fire authority and the police and crime panel.

Who gets what, and who misses out, amounts to a fascinating game of political chess.

The backdrop to the annual group meeting is the recent contest that saw council leader Sir Albert Bore defeat backbencher John Clancy by 46 votes to 30. The handout of chairs, some elected by the group and some appointed by Sir Albert, will be watched closely to see whether the Bore or Clancy camp can gain an advantage by getting their supporters into paid jobs.

This year’s session is being contested in starkly different circumstances to previous AGMs.

Birmingham’s nine scrutiny committees will be reduced to five following recommendations in the Kerslake Review – putting paid to four paid committee chairmanships.

As it happens, Kerslake said Birmingham needed no more than three scrutiny committees. Sir Albert wants and needs five, but will the Government stand for that?

There may be changes down the road to the way the West Midlands runs transport, fire and civil defence and the police if a combined authority and possibly a metro mayor are approved. At the moment Sir Albert can appoint Labour councillors to the fire and transport boards and one to the police and crime panel, but that may change either later this or next year.

For the first time, there are to be appointed scrutiny committee vice-chairs. These positions are unpaid, but may appeal to councillors for whom status in the community is an important issue.

The 10 district committees must change the way they work, again as a result of the Kerslake Review. They will no longer run local services but perform a scrutiny role instead, and as a result it is possible the council’s independent remuneration committee may seek to impose a pay cut on the district chairs who will be deemed to not have such a time-consuming and responsible role.

The new scrutiny committees are corporate resources, economy, skills and sustainability, education and vulnerable children, health and social care.

Current chairs of the nine soon to be abolished scrutiny committees are Carl Rice, Susan Barnett, Zafar Iqbal, Majid Mahmood, Victoria Quinn, Waseem Zaffar, Anita Ward, Mariam Khan and Narinder Kooner.

Dividing nine into five is impossible, even for Sir Albert. The position is complicated by Labour guidance about making sure committee chairmanships have a fair gender and ethnic balance.

Insiders believe Councillors Mahmood, Zaffar and Iqbal may be fighting it out for two male chairs, with the three other scrutiny chairs going to women.

Most attention will be focused on the future of Cllr Mohammed Afzal, a long-time supporter of Sir Albert who it is said has often rallied the Asian councillor vote to keep the council leader in a job.

Cllr Afzal was chair of the HR and employment committee. But the body was scrapped after the Kerslake Review described it as dysfunctional and under-performing with an obsession for micro-management of recruitment. Consequently, Cllr Afzal is out of a job at the moment.

Sir Albert could, in theory, increase the size of the cabinet from nine to 10, opening up a position for Cllr Afzal. It is far from clear though that such a move would be approved by the post-Kerslake improvement panel overseeing the council’s performance.

Alternatively, Sir Albert could encourage his supporters to vote for Cllr Afzal to be chair of one of the new scrutiny committees. Cllr Afzal is certainly hedging his bets – he’s applied to be a member of the cabinet and if he doesn’t get that a scrutiny committee chair.

This poses a further question about the future of Carl Rice, a Ladywood councillor alongside Sir Albert, who was chair of the main scrutiny committee and would expect to be chair of the new corporate resources scrutiny committee. It is just possible that Cllr Rice may find himself dumped in favour of Cllr Afzal, and if that happens the fall out would be nuclear.

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