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The bid to topple Sir Albert is gathering pace

The bid to topple Sir Albert is gathering pace

🕔21.Feb 2013

It is inevitable that Sir Albert Bore and Ian Ward will be challenged for the leadership and deputy leadership of Birmingham City Council at the annual Labour group meeting in May.

Quinton councillor John Clancy has indicated to colleagues that he will definitely pitch himself against Sir Albert, assuming that a more heavyweight contender cannot be found from the cabinet, or possibly a senior elder-statesman figure in the shape of a scrutiny committee chair.

And it has become clear in recent weeks that Clancy is planning a double-coup by also lining up a candidate to take on Ian Ward, the affable and hard-working deputy council leader.

One can never be certain in politics, of course, but my estimation for what it is worth is that Clancy and his supporters among the 78-strong Labour group have zero chance of toppling Sir Albert and Cllr Ward. In fact, Clancy has as much chance of becoming the next Pope as the leader of Europe’s largest local authority.

We’ve been here before. Sir Albert certainly has. Will this be the eighth challenge to Sir Albert in 14 years? Although Sir Albert struggled to win in the period 2000-2004, most of the contenders in recent years have been swatted away like annoying flies including Cllr Clancy who tried and failed spectacularly to oust Sir Albert in May 2011.

Clancy, incidentally, was also involved in an abortive coup against Sir Albert in 2005 when he stood for the deputy leadership with former councillor Mike Olley contesting the leadership. Both were soundly beaten.

Talleyrand’s quip about the Bourbon kings of France comes to mind: “They had learned nothing and forgotten nothing.”

I am led to believe that the Clancy campaign proper will begin next month with a public launch.

In the meantime, a fascinating phoney war is being fought on a high intellectual plane. Well, to be strictly accurate, it’s not a war yet because there is only one side involved and that is the Clancy side.

Early salvos across Sir Albert’s bows have been fired by Coventry University professor David Bailey, a chum of Clancy’s, who has taken the council leader to task for deciding too quickly that services must be slashed or done away with in the light of eye-watering cuts in Government grant.

While there is no evidence that the professor and Clancy are in any way working together, Bailey has argued in a series of blogs in the Birmingham Post that Sir Albert has committed a serious strategic error by attempting to predict the scale of future grant reductions and to plan cuts on that basis.

He has taken particular exception to Sir Albert’s jaws of doom scenario, which depicts an ever widening gap between the budgets at the council’s disposal and the pressure to fund social services.

He’s been more than a bit sniffy about academic research conducted for the council leader by Birmingham University, which Bailey argues was flawed because it was based on terms of reference drawn up by the council itself. Other academics, himself included, may have come to a different conclusion, he warned.

Bailey wrote: “The review was fundamentally flawed due to its brief being crystal-ball-gazingly long term. It was, therefore, highly speculative and basing current or future actions on it would be a mistake. The review considered the council’s own suggestion of considering revenue and cost pressures as far away as 2017, and in some cases considered the position in 2020 and beyond.

“The practical economic and political realities of the near future were notably absent. Bearing in mind the multiple possibilities of those, it was essentially a ‘Plan A’ exercise. It should have been asked to consider a number of different possible future scenarios.

“It was not. And it thus has limited value, least of all to the poor politicians having to make difficult decisions about now, never mind six years hence. And Sir Albert’s ensuing Jaws of Doom suffer the same fundamental problem, I’m sorry to say.”

Ouch. Pretty harsh stuff, which happens to coincide exactly with Cllr Clancy’s views, which he has been explaining at length to any Labour colleague who is willing to listen.

Bailey also gets into another familiar Clancy subject: Service Birmingham, the council’s Capita-led ICT company, which is seen as milking council tax payers and a clear candidate for savings. Capita’s contract costs the council £120 million a year when the estimate was £55 million, leaving Bailey to conclude: “The tail is wagging the dog.”

And then Bailey discusses the matter of whether the council should try to create a revenue stream by disposing of assets. Birmingham Airport, the NEC, city centre properties? All of these are in Cllr Clancy’s sights and are likely to feature in his leadership manifesto.

So the basis of the leadership contest is obvious, and that is to present Sir Albert as someone who is all too keen to dismantle services while ignoring alternative sources of income. A panicking cutter, no less.

Dangerously for Sir Albert, Prof Bailey has shown that the council over-estimated Government grant cuts next year by £8 million, which is pretty much the sum of money required to continue 100 per cent council tax benefit for Birmingham’s poorest families. Sir Albert, it will be remembered, cajoled Labour councillors into imposing an 80 per cent cap on council tax benefit on the grounds that there was no other alternative.

Personally, I don’t think that error is enough for Clancy’s supporters to make the break through. But Sir Albert may at least be forced to break sweat on this occasion to keep his job.



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