‘What sort of leadership does Birmingham need to be a successful city?’

11 Apr

Birmingham ethnic make up

That’s the title of the third ‘Kerslake debate’ on April 20, organised by Pauline Geoghegan, who runs the NewsinBrum and PoliticsinBrum tweetsite, in conjunction with Birmingham University.
 As we know, the people who are in the positions of leadership of Birmingham, the people who hold the power in the city, are those who run the big private and public sector organisations. What they have in common is that they are very highly-paid, and the large majority of them are male and white.
 So who would best be on a panel to debate what sort of leadership Birmingham needs? Why, the people who are already in leadership positions of course!
 Let’s ask Professor Sir David Eastwood, vice-chancellor of Birmingham University, salary £410,000.
  • And Professor Cliff Allan, vice-chancellor of Birmingham City University, salary £207,000.
  • And Mark Rogers, the chief executive of Birmingham city council, salary £180,000.
  • We need a business leader, so let’s add Jack Kelly, director of communications at National Express, a Birmingham-based global company, salary sadly not public but no doubt commensurate with National Express’s 3 per cent rise in profit last year to £66.5million.
  • That’s four men so far so we’d better include a woman. How about Caroline Staite, director of the Institute of Local Government Studies (INLOGOV) at Birmingham University? She’s already been on the panel of the first ‘Kerslake debate’ but let’s have her again because she works closely with the city council on leadership strategy – she has recently led a Financial Review of the council and a major redesign programme ‘Delivering the Future Council’.
 Yes, that’s the panel. And yes, they are all white.
 This panel represents the power elite in Birmingham. It doesn’t represent the people of Birmingham. It defines the best people to talk about leadership in the city as those who are already in the leadership of the city. It excludes from its definition of leadership all those thousands of citizens who are playing leadership roles in their communities, in their unions, in the organisations and campaigns of civil society in the city.
 And it excludes any radical critical voices, so its conception of Birmingham as a ‘successful city’ won’t entail any radical challenge to the profound economic and social inequalities of class, gender and ethnicity which shape the lives of the citizens of Birmingham. It excludes those voices who argue that to make Birmingham a more ‘successful’ city for ­all­ its citizens then ‘leadership’ has to be radically democratised, the monopoly of power by a small elite network has to be challenged. The starting point is the democratisation of the structures and processes of the council itself, opening it up at every level to citizen participation.
 Of course there will be one critical voice on the panel – Pauline Geoghegan herself. Pauline is a vociferous critic of the city council and Albert Bore’s leadership of it. (See for example her article ‘The Kerslake Review has shone a light on the deeply dysfunctional nature of Birmingham local government’, in Democratic Audit UK, 7 January:  http://www.democraticaudit.com/?p=10186.)
 The problem is that Pauline uncritically endorses Kerslake, not recognising that he is the relay and enforcer of the Coalition government’s neo-liberal agenda for local government. The Kerslake Review demands even less popular involvement in local government in Birmingham than already exists, and a tight centralised leadership with strong business involvement. (See ‘The Kerslake Review is a recipe for a neoliberal business-led council’ at http://www.slaneystreet.com/2015/02/12/the-kerslake-review-is-a-recipe-for-a-neoliberal-business-led-council/, 7 January.)
 It still isn’t too late to make the panel more representative, but if it remains as it is, with the power elite on the platform managing the agenda, then the so-called debate will actually be no more than an enactment of the existing leadership power structure in the city.
 Richard Hatcher
 The ‘Kerslake debate’ is on Monday 20 April 6-7.30pm in the Business School, Birmingham University, Edgbaston Park Rd (near the university main entrance, pay parking nearby). Details and registration at http://newsinbrum.com/.

No Mandate for Drastic Cuts at the Library of Birmingham

6 Apr
One of the many FoLoB stalls
One of the many FoLoB stalls
In his introduction to the Labour manifesto 2014, Albert Bore said many things, but nothing about the Library of Birmingham or the wider library service. There was a commitment to provide jobs, including jobs for women and the importance of skills, and this was echoed throughout the manifesto document. This now looks ironic, considering what is happening at the LoB.
There was also a reference to the funding crisis where he says that Labour “cannot make empty promises to give blanket protection to local services”, but that it would “protect the services that support the most vulnerable”.
In the event, Labour received 43% of the vote on a turnout of about one in three of the city’s electorate on May 22nd 2014.
It can hardly be claimed from the above that there was a solid electoral mandate for slashing the number of hours and jobs at the Library of Birmingham. One can read into “protect the services that support the most vulnerable” what one likes. It could mean, for example, the fundamental right of young people to pursue their education, which necessitates a well-stocked and accessible library with plentiful trained and properly paid staff.
If there had been any intention to seriously attack this flagship institution that opened on September 3rd 2013, surely it should have been made reference to, but it wasn’t.
 However, to give the ruling group the benefit of the doubt for a moment, “protect the services that support the most vulnerable”, could imply putting right the woeful protection of children service as the big priority. Indeed, that has been the excuse wheeled out by cabinet members for their decision to drastically cut the Library of Birmingham.
But the problem with that is that the consultation exercise with the public came up with completely different priorities. And as the phrase about the “most vulnerable”, is ambiguous, the results of the consultation exercise would then surely take on a very significant importance.
The OECD says this about consultation: “. . . participation, involving interest groups in the drafting of policy or legislation”.
And here are the pertinent results from the overall consultation summary;
1) The number of responses for the Libraries, Museums, Arts and Heritage sector made up 50% of the total, compared to 29% for adult social care in second place (page 22). The former was far and away the area of most concern.
2) The highest proportion for all the service groupings covered who disagreed with the savings proposals was also for this sector, at 78% (page 54). Adult social care came second at 50%.
So, it is clear that there is still no mandate for the attack on the library.
The only figure that could be quoted in the Council’s defence is that of the 5 most important services the council should provide, people thought that Children and Young People came top at 57% and Libraries, museums, Arts and Heritage came second at 54% (page 32). But there is not much in that, and it does not present a ringing endorsement for the Council’s actions.
(See Budget Consultation Final Report)
 It should be stressed here that this is not about playing off one service against another. It is just making the point that there is no democratic mandate for what the Council is doing to the Library of Birmingham.
The Friends of the Library of Birmingham ran an extensive and well supported campaign throughout the consultation process that won all the arguments about the importance of the Library of Birmingham and the wider library service, and it presented a thorough written submission as a part of that consultation.
But, despite having no mandate, and having conceded all the arguments about the importance of the library service and the LoB in particular, the Council is proceeding with the huge cuts to hours and staffing anyway. The closure on a Sunday has just been announced.
The Friends of the Library of Birmingham group is fully justified in continuing with its campaigning, especially when you consider that even worse cuts are threatened for next year.

Bob Whitehead






The hoardings are up at West Heath library

3 Apr
At last, there is a sign of movement. The work to demolish the old library (in order to build the new one on the same spot), which was promised for January, seems to be commencing.
Annies Meadow and WHL 019However, there are new rumours of it being re-branded as a “hub”, with extended opening hours, but less of these for the actual library service itself, and staffed by volunteer “librarians”.


Time for a change in Ladywood

23 Mar


Ladywood ward needs a councillor who opposes austerity at every level, including when it comes to voting in the council chamber. It needs a councillor who rejects the pro-business agenda of the ruling Labour Group and Kerslake. And it needs a councillor who rejects the racist scapegoating of immigrants for the social ills caused by the 1%.
Robert Brenchley, of Birmingham Left Unity, is offering the voters of Ladywood the option of choosing such a candidate.
The election leaflet can be downloaded here;




Slaney Street 7

18 Mar
Slaney Street issue 7 is now out, and of course still free. This edition features;
  • The vicious attacks on the library service, in particular on the Library of Birmingham.
  • The onslaught on Birmingham City Council services, via the huge cuts being transmitted by the Labour administration.
  • The onslaught on Birmingham City Council, via the Kerslake review, which has as its aim the handing over of even more of it into the arms of big business.
  • The war on the poor, on women and on Muslims.
  • The struggle against racism and fascism.
  • Greece.
  • Pride.
  • and more . . . . .
Why not take some for your circle, neighbourhood or campaign?

“West Heath Library will be re-built”

13 Mar
That is what local citizens and potential library users have been told repeatedly by local councillors. There is even a notice on the old library announcing the demolition would be beginning in January of 2015!

SyrizaRally 009SyrizaRally 007











But . . . . . nothing is happening. The hoardings are not up and no work is in progress. What is going on?

A pan-European struggle against austerity is needed

8 Mar
SyrizaRally 014
A highly successful public meeting last Friday saw about seventy people turn up to the Birmingham Left Unity meeting to hear Marina Prentoulis of Syriza speak of the situation that the new anti-austerity government is facing in Greece.
She talked of the very tough negotiating conditions that were being imposed by EU leaders, but how they were determined to start rolling back the years of appalling austerity, and that their project has only just begun. She said how Syriza would like to solve all the problems of European nations suffering under austerity, but how they could not do it alone.
In that respect, it was good to see a delegation from the Spanish Podemos in the room, giving solidarity to the anti-austerity struggle. The Spanish elections are due at the end of the year, and Podemos is hoping to become the second anti-austerity government in Europe.
The meeting was introduced by Robert Brenchley, the Birmingham Left Unity candidate for the council ward of Ladywood on May 7th. He described it as a ward where the Labour votes are taken for granted, but how the residents get little in return.
There was plenty of time for discussion, and some of the topics that were touched on were the “Grexit”, defaulting on debts, and a very favourable comparison of Syriza to the British Labour Party and its sister party PASOK.
Marina talked of how Syriza began as an electoral coalition, but how in 2012 it turned itself into a party and its various components, for example Synaspismos, dissolved themselves, and everyone now presented themselves as Syriza members in public.
Syriza members still have the right to organise as platforms within the party. For example, the left platform is a significant minority and has taken a critical stance towards recent negotiations.
It would be good for there to be a realistic chance of an anti-austerity party coming to power in this country, but things are clearly nowhere near as advanced as in Greece and Spain.
An appeal was made at the end of the meeting for all those present to join Left Unity and to help bring us a bit nearer towards that goal.
The audience listens to a Podemos speaker

The audience listens to a Podemos speaker


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