After getting to grips with the new Cabinet set-up, Birmingham’s opposition councillors are now turning their fire on the districts.
Specifically the committees being set up to deliver local services for the ten districts of Birmingham.
The confusing thing is that while designed to bring policy and service delivery closer to the people they serve, physically they are growing more remote.
Tories and Lib Dems alike see this change, brought about by Sir Albert Bore’s new Labour administration, as a good target.
Councillors were advised in a memo that the ten district committees, which each have 12 members, would meet in the Council House in the city centre rather than a local community hall or library and would not be a forum for ‘‘public engagement’’.
That would be the primary responsibility of the smaller three-member ward committees.
The idea is that district committees now have a wider range of services to run, including housing, parks, swimming pools, doorstep refuse collection, pest control, lollipop ladies, youth clubs and local roads.
According to the Labour leadership this requires a focus on decision making similar to a cabinet meeting and should not be derailed by members of the public taking up councillor and officer time with questions on whatever local issue concerns them.
Sir Albert, outlining the concept this week, said they are ‘‘like an old style council committee with a geographical rather than functional focus’’.
He means the group of 12 councillors will openly discuss and take decisions. But while the meeting will be in public, the public will not participate.
It is also thought that with a higher calibre of decision, then more senior officials need to attend and it is easier and less expensive to get them into the Council House committee room than shipping them out to the provinces at night and weekends.
If it works out as billed it means that backbench councillors and opposition groups in districts they run can have a much more direct say in policy and local delivery than they have at present.
Tory dominated Sutton Coldfield, with its slight detachment from Birmingham, is the the first area to challenge.
Coun Anne Underwood (Con Four Oaks), who is set to become the district chairwoman, has written to Sir Albert asking him to reconsider.
She said: “How moving the main decision making committee 20 plus miles away from the area it covers increases devolution escapes me.
“It will make it very difficult for members of the public who wish to observe the decision making process to do so, as they will have a journey that takes up to an hour depending on which part of Sutton Coldfield you live in, plus parking costs, and then a return journey.
“In addition they will no longer have a right to speak, but will be at the mercy of the chairman, who may or may not allow public intervention.”
She points out that district officials also face greater costs travelling to and from the centre.
The Lib Dems are similarly unimpressed with the changes.
Their constitutional spokesman Jerry Evans (Springfield) said: “This is truly Albert’s theatre of the absurd. Devolution is meant to be about local control and greater local participation.