The choice of a cabinet is one of the trickiest decisions Sir Albert Bore will have to make, and one that will inevitably shape the performance of Birmingham City Council’s new Labour administration.
On this occasion, for the first time, he can pick his own top team. His previous spell as council leader, from 1999 to 2004, was remarkable for savage internal party bickering after the Labour group insisted on voting for the cabinet, much to Sir Albert’s annoyance.
He has responded by ripping up the existing cabinet system, reducing the membership from ten to eight, and inventing new posts that cut across departmental responsibilities. All bets on who might fill these positions are off until May 14, when Sir Albert will reveal all.
The cabinet at the moment has the following positions: Adults and Communities; Children Young People and Families; Equalities and Human Resources; Housing; Leisure, Sport and Culture; Local Services and Community Safety; Finance. There are also the leader and deputy leader positions.
These positions are replicated In the Labour shadow cabinet as it currently exists, except that the finance post is replaced by a Sustainability member.
The shadow cabinet members are: Steve Bedser (Adults and Communities), Catharine Grundy (Children and Education), Muhummad Afzal (Equalities and Human Resources), Shafique Shah (Housing), Narinder Kooner (Leisure, Sport and Culture), John Cotton (Local Services and Community Safety), Tahir Ali (Transportation and Regeneration), Stewart Stacey (Sustainability), as well as Sir Albert as leader and Ian Ward as deputy leader.
The posts in Sir Albert’s new cabinet model are fewer and radically different. They are: Social Cohesion and Equalities; Sustainability and Green; Health and Wellbeing; Children and Families; Development, Jobs and Skills; Commissioning, Contracting and Improvement.
The idea, according to Sir Albert, is to avoid the “silo” thinking of the past when cabinet members became rigorously attached to one department (and the chief officers) and failed to appreciate the bigger picture. He says his cabinet will be a far more strategic body, free to cut across departmental boundaries.
Clearly, not all of the current shadow cabinet members can expect a place at Sir Albert’s top table since there are not enough positions to go round. It should also be noted that the shadow cabinet as it exists was voted for by the Labour group a year ago before a rule change gave Sir Albert the power to select. Almost nobody in the current line-up should feel completely safe about making it to the new cabinet.
Who is in and who is out is anyone’s guess. There would appear to be no place for Narinder Kooner, since the Leisure, Sport and Culture place is to be abolished. The day-to-day running of leisure will be handled by District Committees, while strategic decisions will be split between the deputy leader and the cabinet member for commissioning.
Social Cohesion and Equalities could be a shoo-in for Muhammad Afzal, a long-time Albert ally and, it is claimed, a key player in shoring up the Muslim vote for Labour.
Children and Families (schools to me and you) will probably go to Catharine Grundy.
You might suppose that Sustainability and Green would go to Stewart Stacey, but will Sir Albert reward a former rival who once stood against him for the Labour leadership?
John Cotton, a staunch Albert supporter, must surely be found a job. Commissioning, Contracting and Improvement, looks a possibility.
Steve Bedser, efficient and a safe pair of hands, looks odds-on for Health and Wellbeing.
That leaves possibly the most important portfolio of all, Development, Jobs and Skills. Whoever gets this cabinet post must deliver on Sir Albert’s pledge to create 7,000 jobs at Washwood Heath as well as setting up new economic growth zones.
Tahir Ali is the current regeneration and Transportation cabinet member. The suspicion is that he won’t be seen as heavyweight enough for the Development, Jobs and Skills portfolio since he has made little impact at scrutiny committee or at council meetings in the past year.
For an outside bet, how about putting some money on former Telford Council leader Phil Davis, who took Billesley for Labour at the elections on May 3. He clearly has the experience of being in a cabinet, but will Sir Albert feel strategic enough to appoint him?
The new council leader does have some room for manoeuvre with the right to choose chairmen for the Planning and Licensing committees. Disgruntled Labour councillors who didn’t get in the cabinet could find themselves rewarded with a downgraded but nevertheless important role.
However Sir Albert plays his hand, there are bound to be many disappointed people in a Labour group of 77 councillors. As one old hand put it: “There will be some big political hangovers at the end of all this.”