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Vote2018: polling day manifesto summary

Vote2018: polling day manifesto summary

🕔03.May 2018

With the polls open, you’ll have already scoured each of the manifestos to determine where to place your vote in elections for Birmingham city council, writes Kevin Johnson. 

After all, today’s election will determine who takes the 101 new seats in the biggest re-organisation of the council in years. With a four year term, rather than voting for a third of the council each time, who gains enough seats to form the next administration is possibly more significant than ever.

No, you’ve not done a line-by-line analysis? Luckily, we have.

“Manifesto commitments” is a phrase often used to give permission to what a party does in government – and a line with which to attack administrations for failing in office.

Manifestos are probably even less well read for local elections than for a general, but we think they are worth studying and noting before a party takes power.

Labour

A well-written document and the most comprehensive manifesto we can recall. The hand of Liam Byrne MP is evident.

You will find no mention of the Kerslake Review or the difficulties that the Labour administration has had in implementing improvement at Europe’s largest local authority.

Understandable, maybe, but also something of a glaring omission. Labour has lost two council leaders since Bob Kerslake reported. An improvement panel has come, semi gone, come back and is now attempting to share the job with the leadership it is supposed to be monitoring.

VOTE2018: Council battlegrounds on 3 May

The manifesto document is full of high-flying promises that don’t amount to very much. For example:

We will re-state the case for the municipal provision of services in Birmingham, heralding a new age of municipal socialism.

And:

We will create the civic family to restore civic pride and confidence in our city, with all committed to building a better Birmingham.

The following pledge seems to be more in hope than any expectation of delivery, after all it’s the Government not the council that will decide on academies and free schools:

We will explore ways to re-establish municipal education in this city – challenging the Balkanisation of education that we’ve seen with widespread academisation and the failed introduction of Free Schools. We will support great schools and help those that struggle to improve.

But if you ask a leading Labour councillor to unpack just how the municipalisation of education could actually work, there is a stunning lack of detail.

Two further pledges leap off the page:

We will establish a municipal energy company to tackle the evils of fuel poverty and rip-off tariffs for those least able to afford them. Similarly, we will establish a municipal water company.

All attempts to form an energy company in partnership with Nottingham council appear to have ended in failure. Cllr Trickett was claiming a breakthrough a year ago, but it’s just not happening. As for a municipal water company, just how could this be achieved?

We were under the impression that the following was already council policy:

And the Labour council in Birmingham will lead by example, calling time on the misplaced notion that the private sector always trumps the public sector by adopting a policy of in-house preferred for all contracts.

The manifesto is on firmer ground with house-building pledges, where the council has enjoyed recent success.

There are quite a few bold promises in the section on homelessness. In particular:

We will ensure no one needs to sleep rough on the streets. We guarantee that there will continue to be sufficient bed spaces in shelters for everyone who needs one.

Phase out the use of bed and breakfast as quickly as possible.

Increase practical and financial support for homelessness prevention services through Corporate Social Responsibility.

The promise to end the use of bed and breakfast accommodation requires an explanation as to how this is going to be achieved and paid for.

There are more promises on jobs:

In order for Birmingham to continue to be successful in attracting investment and to ensure that the people of Birmingham benefit, we will focus on training and upskilling. We will continue to develop and implement a wide range of initiatives to address the skills gap.

But no explanation as to how closing the skills gap, which Conservative Mayor Andy Street has made his priority, is going to be achieved. Only by working with the Mayor and WMCA, you might think.

There is, though, a nod to the role the private sector and schools can play in the skills debate:

Bring together our partners to identify the critical skills gaps in the City which can be filled by our young people, and convene our schools, colleges, and universities to pioneer new ways of working together to transform the number of earn-while-you learn technical and professional qualifications on offer to local young people. Foster a revolution in careers advice and guidance so that these new technical education options are well understood by children from the age of 13, by supporting and enabling work connecting employers and educators, giving young people real experience of work before leaving education.

Here’s one which we particularly look forward to:

Launch the NEC Masterplan to fully realise the potential of the NEC site, creating more jobs and connecting people to those jobs by building the East Birmingham to Solihull Metro Extension between the city centre, East Birmingham, the NEC, Birmingham Airport and UK Central.

Longstanding pledges to improve Birmingham’s suburbs are being given a new life:

We will launch our local centres investment programme to ensure that Birmingham’s local centres have a central role in delivering jobs and opportunities for local people, ensuring that Birmingham growth is spread across all our communities. Produce a city-wide strategy for how Birmingham’s network of centres can continue to thrive and prosper.

The section on trains raised a smile:

But in a world of six trains per hour at Tory Sutton Coldfield and Stourbridge and five at Solihull, we will not settle for the Tories’ proposed two train an hour for Moseley and Kings Heath: we want a proper local service.

Those wicked Tories only allowing Moseley two trains an hour. Who’d have thought it?

Liberal Democrats

Oh dear. Who in this day and age thinks it’s a good thing to have a group picture of council candidates in their manifesto? Looks like a bunch of disgruntled social workers (with apologies to social workers).

The Lib Dems, predictably, are concentrating on clean, green and safe, and as might be expected promise quite a lot without any indication of how to pay for their promises.

For example:

We will reverse cuts to street cleaning. We will reverse cuts to parks budgets.

We will restore two free household collections for bulky rubbish per year.

We will bring back special street collections. In Liberal Democrat wards, our councillors will ensure residents are well aware when this is happening and that those with disabilities can get assistance to move items.

We will protect and restore street cleaning budgets. Labour currently plans to remove £1.5 million a year from these budgets by 2022.

We will aim to restore free garden waste collection by 2020.

We will issue all households with green bags this autumn and in 2019 so they can pick up leaves from their properties and from the pavement and verge outside. Many residents used to do this – but stopped doing so when charges were introduced.

We will slash the annual renewal charge for the brown green waste bins to an administration fee of £10 for 2019, prior to reintroducing free collections in 2020.

We will reform the refuse collection services and street cleaning services.

The headline-grabbing proposal in the Lib Dem manifesto is sector tendering for the refuse collection service, which we take as another way to describe privatisation. The manifesto explains:

The contracts would be based on the city’s three main existing depots: Holford Drive, Lifford Lane, Redfern Road. The Montague Street depot, which handles city centre services, would be bundled into one of the other contracts. Contracts would be let for up to eight years. This is the lifetime of a collection fleet, allowing contractors to purchase or lease new fleet. This is short enough to keep contractors on their toes and focused on providing a high quality service – so they can win future contracts.

Vote2018: Brum’s big beasts leaving the House

Interestingly:

Under trade union legislation the contractors would set their terms and conditions of service in negotiations with unions. That would reduce to a minimum the risk of a city-wide dispute affecting all three contractors or against an employment policy set by the city council.

There’s a section on safer streets with ideas about enhancing the role of Police Community Support Officers, but this would be dependent on the agreement of the Police Commissioner, currently a Labour politician and a role which will be absorbed in the next Mayoralty from 2020.

The Lib Dems would end free on-street parking in Birmingham at night:

As part of tackling congestion, we would put an end to free on-street parking in the city centre in the evenings. However, we will consider schemes to provide reduced parking rates for low energy and low carbon vehicles.

There are some weasel-words over the Amey contract, which was of course drawn up during the dying days of the Tory-Lib Dem coalition:

The contract with Amey was a joint venture involving a Labour government and a Lib Dem-Conservative council. It delivered a number of benefits, including a clear policy on tree replacement.

Unfortunately was [sic] only just under way when Labour took control of the council and has been characterised by neglect. Effective contract and performance monitoring – and listening to local councillors and communities – would have highlighted the emerging problems rapidly. Large sums of money were wasted in putting tarmac in the wrong places. We will work with Amey to get it back on track. We will also institute effective performance monitoring at Cabinet level.

Conservatives

The Tories were the last main party to publish a manifesto. It has the whiff of a last minute job thrown together with minimum design effort and certainly not enough proofing. It followed a series of press releases on its main pledges.

We’ve already mentioned the headline-grabbing tower block demolition scheme. Grabbing a headline is all the policy is likely to achieve.

Not surprisingly, the Conservatives do mention Kerslake and start its document with Labour’s failure to “grasp the need for change”

Birmingham stands at the last chance saloon After years of knowing the Council needed to restructure itself to ensure that money could be saved while protecting frontline services, the Labour administration still fails to grasp the need for change and offers no vision beyond seeking to blame others for its own failings.

The first page also provides a personal endorsement from Mayor Andy Street for a Conservative-led council under Bobby Alden, featured holding a brick. It’s not clear if he is about to lay it on the building site or throw it a political opponent. Mayor Street pops up on almost every page.

Vote2018: Thursday’s other West Midlands elections

It’s first pledge is, again predictably, on refuse collection. Under ‘Cleaner Neighbourhoods’, it promises:

We will clean up our streets, retain weekly bin collections by scraping [sic] Labours waste plan that recommended fortnightly bin collections and invest in our suburban High Streets.

Somewhat surprisingly, details on waste and recycling do not come until page 39 of the 52 page document, with reference to the 221 day industrial dispute and “22 double decker buses worth of rubbish” that piled up.

There’s a commitment to lower Council Tax. Arguably, lower Council Tax increases under the ‘progressive partnership’ of the Conservatives and Lib Dems are one of the reasons that Birmingham finds itself in its current financial difficulties, having missed out on the opportunity to increase its local revenues.

Birmingham Conservatives commit themselves to a “Caring City.” It highlights issues with both adult care and children’s services, claiming credit for the establishment of the Birmingham Children’s Trust.

On ‘looked after’ children, it suggests many vulnerable children in the care of the council might benefit from “Britain’s boarding schools.” The council would stay in touch with children, presumably spread across the country, including “marking important life events such as birthdays or religious\cultural milestones with gifts from the Lord Mayor.”

Homelessness and rough sleeping also features strongly in the manifesto, but the Conservatives are clearly far more keen to work with their regional Mayor and the Housing First pilot secured by the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA). It also promises:

Improve both the quality and supply of temporary accommodation and end the use of B&Bs which are costly and fail to provide the support needed.

Conservatives claim credit for the success of the Birmingham Municipal Housing Trust, but point to many issues in Labour record on housing. It says it will extend from one to five years the residency rule over how long it takes to qualify for Council housing.

The Conservatives promise a “Food Poverty Action Plan” and says that:

Birmingham will become a city that ‘cooks together and eats together’ with community cookery classes, shared meals groups, holiday clubs etc. bringing people together to learn how to make healthier, more nutritious meals on a budget, including preparation and storage techniques.

There is Conservative support for the development of more Free Schools and expansion of selective school places.

At the top of the list of measures to tackle the skills gap is backing Job Fairs in local communities, rather than Victoria Square.

It is notable that all of the recent inward investment success is put down to the last Conservative-led administration, the Tory Government or their Mayor. Similarly, Ian Ward receives no credit for securing the Commonwealth Games 2022.

There’s a free bus pass on offer – if the nice Mayor agrees – to women facing a surprise delay in their pension due to the equalisation of the state pension age.

Dog cruelty investigations in Birmingham will return, after their “needless and heartless cut” by Labour. 50 school crossing patrols would be re-instated.

There is a lengthy commitment to Community Libraries, including that they are:

…owned and managed by those best placed to deliver the service – the staff and communities.

The Tories would

…reverse the cuts made by Labour to the arts and the museums

although it’s not clear from what point the party makes its calculation. It would also “scrap Labour’s plans to sell off part of the Council House extension to be used as a hotel…”

There is transport largesse, including “free travel on the Metro in the City Centre,” a promise to “look at options for a school holiday pass for children and young people to allow them to explore the City and its cultural offer” and a re-opening of train lines.

Conservatives make clear their opposition to any form of congestion charging, but re-commit to find more money for filling in pot holes.

Social policy commitments include investment in “community-based English language classes to ensure that everyone in Birmingham can speak English by 2023” and an extensive section on commitments to the LGBT community.

A Conservative run council would support the planned week of events to celebrate the docking of the Windrush ship “alongside other events that show the best of Birmingham.”

The Tories plan to introduce a Birmingham Reward Card to earn points and redeem in various ways.

The polls opened at 7.00am and close at 10.00pm. Make your vote count. 

The Files will be running a live blog covering the results on Thursday night/Friday morning. Stock up on your snacks and liquid refreshments of choice.

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