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Dale’s Diary: Friends Reunited as John and Ian get a room

Dale’s Diary: Friends Reunited as John and Ian get a room

🕔14.Apr 2016

Chamberlain Files loves a good news story, and here’s one to warm the coldest heart.

John Clancy, the leader of Birmingham city council, has a new best friend.

Those in the know say that Clancy’s relationship with deputy council leader Ian Ward has become so good that they are thinking of getting a room.

At the moment their offices in the Council House are separated by an area housing PAs and other staff, a kind of exclusion zone that came in handy when Clancy and Ward were bitter rivals. The cordon sanitaire was of course absolutely vital during the long years when Cllr Ward’s relationship with former council leader Sir Albert Bore was crumbling.

Only five months ago during a bitter battle for the council leadership, Ward was a candidate standing against Clancy who he suggested was too inexperienced to handle the top job. Clancy won and Ward fully expected to be out on his ear.

But that didn’t happen. Clancy has forgiven his enemy and, reportedly, has been impressed by Ward’s grasp of the council’s complex finances particularly in tricky meetings with the Birmingham Independent Improvement Panel and in even trickier budget-setting meetings with Labour councillors.

He’s praised Ward for a “really positive and practical approach in difficult times” and says he values his deputy’s support and advice immensely.

I’m told that Clancy recently took Ward to one side and thanked him for his hard work. Ward, it is said, replied that this was the first time he had ever been thanked by the leader of the council, which while incredibly sad is probably true.

All of this quite naturally leaves the Labour group in good heart approaching the May 5 council elections. Splits have been healed over and talk of a post-election leadership challenge to Clancy has gone out of the window. It’s almost as if the events of last November–December and the ousting of Sir Albert never happened.

It may be that Ward’s decision to invest in a new Porsche (described as ostentatious in Labour hair-shirt circles) stemmed from that moment. He knows he is safe in the forthcoming cabinet reshuffle.

Indeed, so chummy have the leader and his deputy become, what with popping into each other’s office to shoot the breeze or ask about orders for sandwiches and coffee, they may simply knock down the dividing wall and make it all open plan. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Keep this quiet, but there are plans afoot to have more Birmingham city council meetings and to hold them in the evening.

It’s all part of leader John Clancy’s democratic revolution.

He’s got this rather quaint idea that ‘citizens’ would really like to attend meetings, or watch them live on the web, but cannot do so because the gatherings are held in the afternoon when most people are at work.

Clancy wants the council to have more meetings on “specific issues” at which the great political ideas of the day can be debated…or at least the state of refuse collection or the latest pothole scandal can be aired.

Far be it for Chamberlain Files to burst his bubble, but the notion that hard-working Brummies are going to return home from their labours and head out to a council meeting, or watch a live recording of a meeting rather stretches the imagination.

“Do you want to watch Corrie, or shall we have a look at what promises to be a fascinating debate about micro-chipping wheelie bins?”

A little bit of history for Cllr Clancy. Thirty or forty years ago, councils routinely held meetings in the evening. But these were shifted to daytime not only because members of the public stopped attending, but rather more importantly because it proved difficult to recruit councillors who were prepared to sit through lengthy meetings after a day at work.

There are so many good news stories to report this week that it’s almost as if dear old Lord Whitby was back in charge of the city council.

In one of the most extraordinary developments in recent months I can report that all is now sweetness and light between the council’s Labour leadership and the ICT joint partnership Capita-Service Birmingham.

A year or so ago John Clancy was leading the charge to sack Capita. It was unacceptable for the council to be paying its IT providers about £100 million a year and the work could be farmed out to local firms at half the cost, claimed Clancy when he was running for the council leadership.

Bearing the brunt of this attack was deputy council leader Ian Ward, now Clancy’s best chum, but who was presented for much of 2013 and 2014 as being incapable of standing up to Capita and its ruthless money-making machine.

Just a week ago, even, Cllr Ward presented a scrutiny committee report that warned Service Birmingham  it would have to do far more to cut costs and added work on finding additional savings “has not been as good as the council would have liked”.

Roll forward seven days and remarkably a Damascene conversion has struck Cllr Ward.

He told the main scrutiny committee that in the days since his report was published a “number of joint in initiatives” meant the working relationship between the council and Capita had improved. “I would describe the relationship as being very, very positive”, he added. Fast work indeed.

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