Birmingham council 'should not take eye off ball' amid major transformation plans

Council leader John Cotton during March's budget meeting
-Credit: (Image: Nick Wilkinson/Birmingham Live)

Birmingham City Council’s administration has been urged to 'get the basics right' ahead of an ambitious endeavour to transform the local authority. The Labour-run council found itself in an alarming financial predicament and voted in March to go ahead with an enormous wave of cuts to local services as well as a 10 per cent rise in council tax.

Against this bleak backdrop, the leader of the crisis-hit council, Cllr John Cotton, this week confirmed his new top team as their recovery “gathers momentum”. The council’s improvement and recovery plan, published earlier this year, provided insight into how it intends to undergo a ‘fundamental reset’ and become a ‘smaller and leaner’ organisation in a bid to turn its fortunes around.

“When I took on the leadership of this council 12 months ago, I made clear my job is to tackle the financial challenges that have dogged this organisation for too long, to get our house in order and to give the people of Birmingham the future they deserve,” Cllr Cotton told a council meeting on Tuesday.

READ MORE: Birmingham Council leader unveils new £500k top team and pledges to 'get basics right'

“I’m under no illusion - we clearly have a long way to go to transform the fortunes of this council,” he continued. “There are still challenges ahead.

“But important steps have been taken in recent months, notably the setting of that incredibly challenging budget and our improvement and recovery plan". He went on to say that to tackle inequality by growing the local economy, the council would focus on housing, transport and skills - three areas where the city "lags behind national averages.”

"Stronger performance in those three key areas will boost productivity and investment, increase incomes, reduce poverty, and deal with the unacceptable gulf in life expectancy between the richest and poorest in this city,” he said. He added that the council’s “new-look cabinet” have been tasked with delivering the next stage in its transformation.

The new top team includes Cllr Rob Pocock taking on the new ‘Transformation, Governance and HR’ portfolio while Cllr Majid Mahmood will now be responsible for both environment and transport following a merger of the roles. Robert Alden, leader of the Conservative group at the council, said the Labour administration would get their support to tackle child poverty as well as to improve housing and transport.

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However, he continued: “But this administration should not take its eye off the ball - things have not been fixed in this council yet. There are still commissioners in this city, the council’s finances still do not balance.

“Until this administration gets the basics right in this city, then Brummies will rightly view those grand words we heard with the suspicion they deserve". Roger Harmer, leader of the Liberal Democrats, was sceptical of Cllr Cotton’s new cabinet, saying: “When I saw the new cabinet, what my eyebrows really raised at was the merging of environment and transport.”

He argued the merger could be a “recipe for disaster” and added: “If we can get the basics right, then we can address those issues". Cllr Julien Pritchard, from the Green Party, also said he still believed it was a mistake to create a portfolio that lumped together high-profile issues.

“That is everything from fly-tipping to missed bin collections and now adding in potholes, broken street lights, you name it,” he said. Addressing such concerns, Cllr Cotton said: “As the commissioners have reflected, these changes better focus cabinet responsibilities with the improvement and recovery plan - I think that is really important.

Birmingham City Council House
Birmingham City Council House -Credit:Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

“The improvement and transformation of the council must be absolutely the sole focus as we move through this municipal year". He added: “I referenced getting the basics right in my budget speech back in March and re-iterated that this afternoon.

“Of course, it’s absolutely true in the improvement and recovery plan that we’re all working to implement and will be reflected in the new corporate plan as well. Transformation is key - and that is why there is a portfolio specifically created to focus on that task.”

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