A major overhaul of the city council’s leadership and Cabinet structure “won’t do any harm” to Birmingham’s bid for greater powers under the City Deal initiative, the new leader has claimed.
Sir Albert Bore wasted no time in reshaping the council with a new cabinet model and continuing the devolution strategy he began when last leader in 2004.
Gone are the titles like cabinet member for housing, leisure sport and culture, adults and communities and transport and almost everything else, which were traditionally attached to specific department.
Instead, six new cabinet posts will have members covering social cohesion and equalities, green, safe and smart city, health and wellbeing, children and family services, development, jobs and skills and commissioning, contracting and improvement.
Rather than be tied to one department, they will work across the council to direct policy and challenge those directorates to deliver on their core aims. The idea is to prevent cabinet members and departments working in ‘silos’, instead taking a city wide and strategic view.
Meanwhile, the ten constituencies, renamed districts because of imminent boundary changes, will be handed greater autonomy over local services including housing, leisure centres, libraries, parks and refuse collection. The district chairmen and women will have a voice at the cabinet table.
Already, chairman of the Birmingham and Solihull LEP Andy Street, outgoing council leader Mike Whitby and the leader of Solihull Council Ken Meeson have met with Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg to push the case for greater powers under the City Deal policy – particularly taking control of training and skills funding, greater power over transport policy and grabbing the former land assets of Advantage West Midlands.
But those deals were dependent on the major cities showing they could embrace new models of leadership, such as an elected mayor. But, with that hope dashed last week, Sir Albert’s new target-driven leadership model could do the trick.
Sir Albert (Lab, Ladywood) said: “We started looking at new thinking around the council leadership a long while ago, so it was not created with the City Deal in mind.
“I understand the City Deal bid has already gone in. However demonstrating a new style of leadership cannot do us any harm.”
The changes will see the cabinet reduced from ten to eight, while several other senior posts are to go as a result of two scrutiny committees being dropped and the licensing and public protection committees being merged.
A new employment matters committee will be set up to deal with issues surrounding the council’s workforce.
The wholesale changes, which include the opportunity for public questions at the monthly council meeting, are now being poured over by opposition groups who have been invited to make suggestions.
Already the Conservative deputy leader Robert Alden (Cons, Erdington) has asked for the number of councillors needed to challenge a cabinet decision to be reduced from three to two – not least because the Tories will only have two members on the standard scrutiny committee.
Lib Dem group secretary Coun Mike Ward (Sheldon) said: “There are many changes and some people may have issues with what is being proposed.
“But one thing we can never accuse Sir Albert of is not thinking things through. I have no doubt this will have been skilfully worked out.”
The 77-strong Labour group meets on Saturday (May 12) when it is expected that Sir Albert and Coun Ian Ward will be confirmed as council leader and deputy leader.
At a follow-up meeting on Monday Sir Albert will appoint the Cabinet and committee chairs. Scrutiny committee chairmen and women and party officials will be elected by the group.
Mike Whitby is expected to be unopposed in his bid to stand as opposition leader when the 28-strong Conservative group meets on Monday.