Brandwood Labour councillor Dr Barry Henley is a clever chap, possibly a touch too clever for his own good.
The doctor has taken it upon himself to educate his colleagues by broadening their knowledge and general educational attainment.
The spirit of the Workers’ Educational Association lives on in Birmingham, thanks to the likes of Dr Henley.
So he arrived at the planning committee armed with his “word of the week”, which turned out to be ‘boondoggle’.
Oddly, fellow councillors seemed less than impressed at the prospect of a free English lesson from Dr Henley, in particular former tank commander and working class hero, Coun Mike Sharpe (BA Uni of Hard Knocks), who neither knew nor cared what boondoggle might mean.
Undeterred and, presumably, armed with a skin as thick as a rhino, Henley blundered on safe in the knowledge that no one in the room was likely to be able to provide the right answer.
I was reminded of the late Robert Robinson, erudite host of the ghastly middle class quiz game Ask the Family, whose stock response to a ludicrous guess at an answer was: “Would that it were, Mr Sharpe..... would that it were.”
The most interesting aspect of this amusing interlude is the reason that lay behind Dr Henley’s choice of word of the week.
Boondoggle, as he gleefully informed everyone in the room, is a term that originally arose in the New York Times in 1935 and it refers to “a project that is considered to waste time and money, yet is often continued due to extraneous policy motivations”.
Dr Henley believes the city council’s joint venture company with Capita, Service Birmingham, is a boondoggle.
Wikipedia assesses boondoggle as: “Protracted government or corporate projects involving large numbers of people and usually heavy expenditure, where at some point, the key operators, having realized that the project will never work, are still reluctant to bring this to the attention of their superiors.
“Generally there is an aspect of going through the motions – for example, continuing research and development – as long as funds are available to keep paying the researchers’ and executives’ salaries.
“The situation can be allowed to continue for what seems like unreasonably long periods, as senior management are often reluctant to admit that they allowed a failed project to go on for so long.
“In many cases, the actual device itself may eventually work, but not well enough to ever recoup its development costs. While cost overruns are a common factor in declaring a project a boondoggle, that does not necessarily mean the project has no benefit.”
Labour councillors are gunning for Service Birmingham in the expectation that the group will regain control of the council in May.
The size and complexity of the £1 billion contract with the council that Service Birmingham now enjoys, extended earlier this year to 2021 by the Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition, makes it highly unlikely that Labour can even think about dispensing with Capita’s services in the medium term.
But that won’t prevent the likes of Barry Henley asking awkward questions and demanding more accountability from Service Birmingham.
Chief Secretary Danny Alexander was in Birmingham this week for “talks” with city council leaders.
He was taken to the top of Alpha Tower to appreciate the glorious vista, in particular the signs of regenerative green shoots.