RED FACES at a meeting of the Birmingham city council Labour group after party organisers hurriedly scrapped plans to table a resolution supporting World Day Against Child Labour.
A motion for debate at the full council meeting from cabinet member James McKay and his colleague Andy Cartwright seemed uncontroversial at first glance.
Members were to have been invited to “acknowledge and recognise the right of the child to be protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous, harmful to a child’s health, physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development, and more importantly to interfere with an individual child’s education.”
It was the closing paragraph of the clarion call that caused problems, however.
“We affirm Birmingham City Council’s commitment through our endeavours of purchasing goods and services that in each individual contract we will ensure and only procure from nations that have ratified and adopted the Minimum Age Convention adopted by the International Labour organisation in 1973.”
The better informed Labour councillors quickly pointed out that some rather important trading nations with links to Birmingham have not signed the convention, in particular India.
Clearly, refusing to trade with one of the world’s fastest growing economies could be seen as a backward step and damaging to Birmingham’s financial interests.
Rather than risk slapping an import and export ban on India, council leader Sir Albert Bore and his advisers, including chief whip Mike Leddy, agreed to arrange matters so that time for debating resolutions would run out before the child labour discussion could take place. It was decided to “talk out” a preceding resolution about unemployment from Tory and Liberal Democrat councillors.
A number of new councillors who had planned to make maiden speeches about child labour were disappointed. However, others who wanted to speak about unemployment in Birmingham were delighted.
THE MATTER of Sir Albert Bore’s two jobs is not going to go away any time soon.
This month’s Labour group meeting returned yet again to the question of whether Sir Albert should continue to work as the part time chairman of the University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Trust, for which he is paid about £44,000, as well as lead the city council where he benefits from a £50,000 special responsibility allowance.
Critics point out that the council’s constitution states that leading the council is a full time job. Or, at least, it used to say that. The wording has been changed, which prompted a lively exchange of views at the Labour group meeting.
Faced with demands that he should quit as hospital trust chairman, Sir Albert said nothing. He was defended by deputy council leader Ian Ward, who explained that Sir Albert easily devoted a 37-hour working week to his council duties.
Questioned by a Conservative councillor at the full council meeting, Sir Albert expanded on the 37-hour a week argument, adding that his attendance at the council was “far more than that”.
A disgruntled Labour councillor tells me that the pressure on Sir Albert to resign from the hospital will be renewed at the July group meeting. A fresh approach is likely to claim that the council leader is in danger of a conflict of interests, given his stated intention to develop a medical technology campus at Edgbaston, with links to the hospital.
Sir Albert is expected to argue that he will hand over any decision involving the hospital to another cabinet member and play no part in the process.
My spy on the inside is confident that the council leader will have been “worn down” by the end of the year and will decide to retire from the hospital chairmanship. Personally, I expect Sir Albert to remain at the Trust well into 2013, if not 2014.