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Summer Report: Sir Albert Bore

Summer Report: Sir Albert Bore

🕔07.Aug 2014

In the first of a series of end of term reports from chief blogger Paul Dale where we reflect on 2014 class work, in the week he married it would seem timely to start with the leader of Birmingham City Council.

Sir Albert Bore remains the premier politician in Birmingham on any basis you care to name.

Whether the status of councillors, MPs or MEPs is being considered, Sir Albert stands head and shoulders above the rest in terms of length of service, achievements, and sheer staying power.

He’s been a Birmingham city councillor for 34 years, and leader of the Labour group for 15 years.
He led the council between 1999 and 2004 and resumed office in 2012 following an eight-year period during which the city was run by a Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition.

As befits the man whose nickname is ‘The Great Survivor’, 2014 saw Sir Albert swat away the latest threat to his leadership of the Labour group and the council, easily defeating backbencher John Clancy for the third time in May.

Bore’s victory, by 47 votes to 27, was comfortable enough, but clearly demonstrates a split in the Labour group which could widen in future.

When judged against last year’s contest, where Bore gained 51 votes to 23 for Clancy, the trend becomes more interesting although it is difficult to envisage the circumstances in which Clancy, or anyone else, could garner enough votes to win outright.

The fact of the matter is that as Sir Albert approaches 70, and happy in his private life after recently marrying fellow councillor Victoria Quinn, there is not the slightest indication that he is preparing to hand over the reins at the country’s largest local authority.

Nor, despite constant rumours, is there a jot of evidence to suggest that Labour party organisers locally and nationally are preparing to tap Sir Albert on the shoulder and invite him to pick up a gold watch for long service and stand down.
Why should they? And, if they did, who would they recruit to run Birmingham?

Some may think it is odd, and Sir Albert’s critics certainly think it odd, that the city’s Labour leader has managed to remain in charge for 15 years when many of the problems facing Birmingham are just as acute now as they were in 1999.

The financial crisis (when wasn’t there a financial crisis at the council?) is clearly graver than ever as a result of the Government’s austerity programme of grant cuts. Sir Albert’s ‘Jaws of Doom’ graph dominated the headlines in early 2014, depicting an £800 million gap between what the council apparently needs to spend to meet demand for services and the money it can expect to get in revenue support grant.

This will lead to the end of local government as we have known it, according to Sir Albert, and the decommissioning of some council services next year. The bubble will burst and the jaws finally snap in 2015-16 and 2016-17 when the council has to cut at least £300 million from its spending plans.

Social care for vulnerable children has been failing for years. State-run schools have just about managed to reach the national average for GCSE s, but there are signs that exam results have plateaued or are even falling back.

Unemployment remains higher in Birmingham than most of the UK, while the skills gap is as wide as it ever was. Hundreds of millions of pounds has been thrown at economic regeneration over the years, but there are many streets in the inner city wards where generations of families have never held full time employment and probably never will.

This year has been marked by the Trojan Horse affair, but as official inquiries have found Islamisation in non-faith schools led by governors and teachers throwing their weight around has been happening in Birmingham for quite a while.

The storm finally broke in 2014, under Sir Albert’s watch, but it could easily have erupted four or five years ago when it would have been an equally difficult issue for the city’s Tory and Liberal Democrat leaders as it has been for Sir Albert and his colleagues.

You don’t survive at the top of politics without a broad back and a certain amount of chutzpah.

Sir Albert has plenty of this. The imposition on the council of a Government commissioner, Lord Norman Warner, to oversee a recovery plan for Birmingham children’s services was welcomed by Sir Albert who gave the impression that this was precisely the sort of turn of events that he had been praying for, even though direct intervention from Whitehall is reserved only for under-performing councils.

That was followed fairly quickly by the imposition of a second commissioner, Sir Bob Kerslake, who will look at the council’s governance arrangements in the light of Trojan Horse. Naturally, Sir Albert welcomed Sir Bob with open arms, and privately regards this as another opportunity to make the case for an elected Birmingham mayor.

The past year will be remembered for an unusual, possibly unprecedented, event. Sir Albert Bore apologised for the way the council ignored the Trojan Horse affair and complaints from head teachers about the stealth-driven Islamisation of their schools.
It was a ‘corporate’ apology, but even those with the longest of memories were hard pressed to recall any event in the past where the council leader felt obliged to say sorry.

Politicians with staying power also need another precious commodity – luck.

Sir Albert can rely on three interconnected events making a big difference to Birmingham.

First, the economy is recovering at a faster pace than anyone anticipated. Second, the Government has awarded the Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP £357 million for regeneration schemes. Third, the HS2 high speed rail line is coming to Birmingham.

When all of this is taken together, with the benefits of the city centre Enterprise Zone and its business rates uplift financial plan, Birmingham can look forward to a burst of economic development the like of which it has not seen for years.

The redevelopment of Paradise Circus is going ahead. Arena Central will be delivered at last. The city centre Metro extension is being built. The area around New Street Station, Moor Street and Curzon Street will be transformed by HS2. New Street’s Grand Central shopping centre will open next year and there will be a John Lewis store.

This kind of thing is anathema to Sir Albert’s critics in the Labour party. They fondly recall Birmingham as the city of a thousand trades and demand ‘proper jobs for working class Brummies’ rather than minimum wage zero-hours contracts in shopping malls.
But there is almost nothing more guaranteed to boost the profile of a council leader than cranes on the skyline and a rapidly changing cityscape, particularly coming as it will at the end of a particularly vicious downturn.

The future’s looking bright for Birmingham – and for Sir Albert Bore.

The crack Chamberlain Files editorial team is on something of a go slow in August as the politicians take their breaks, but look out for more Summer Reports – as well as the latest from the PCC election.

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