I’ve only been a councillor for little over 18 months, but already this is my third chance to cast a vote for who I want to be leader of my group and of the council. I didn’t expect to be picking a leader next week, and like many others I’m sure had this task tucked firmly away, ready for next May. But with this election, we have a lot to lose, and a lot to play for.
I know many of my fellow councillors made their minds up quickly, without it seems encountering the trouble I have found in separating the candidates and identifying the chosen one! Not that surprising as we are all colleagues from the same party, with common principles and values. Above all, we all hold Birmingham’s future very dear and we all care deeply about the City and its citizens. That said, this was always going to be a difficult decision to make.
I have held back from coming out to publicly support one candidate over another. I’ve sat back and listened, I’ve spoken to candidates and colleagues, and I’ve asked questions… lot’s of them.
I deeply believe that the choice we make on Monday evening is not something to be rushed. It shouldn’t be an easy decision, it shouldn’t be one made for personal gain and it should not be one that we make under duress. But I’m ready to make that choice.
Penny Holbrook is a great Cabinet member who has proved herself as being a smart cookie, and has boxed clever in her dealings around the Library of Birmingham. She has worked hard to ensure that there are opportunities for our young people, found ways to mitigate against frontline youth service cuts this year and has fully supported me in my role as Youth Champion. But, and it’s a big but, I don’t think she’s ready for the enormity of the task ahead and I think that deep down she knows this too.
John Clancy, another colleague who has plenty of drive and passion and who is overflowing with ideas and policy suggestions. Having been that singular opponent over the past years he has shown strength and audacity in the face of ridicule and I respect him greatly for that. But my worry is that this is not a time to wipe the slate clean and start again. We need stability and focus to progress the priority areas that we as a council must address. I think John could be a good leader, one day – but not this day.
We have unpalatable decisions to make about cuts to services because of the relentless drive for austerity by the government resulting in the disproportionate reductions to our funding. We have to demonstrate that we can take forward and make real progress on the multitude of recommendations placed upon us by Kerslake and we must prove to the Improvement Panel that collectively we can make the changes necessary.
As a council, we face many challenges ahead of us. This will be no easy task, with no time for on the job learning, and no room for mistakes. If we are going to get through these critical times, then I firmly believe we need someone with the skills and experience to get on with the task. I believe Ian Ward is the only one who can offer us this.
Ian has promised “change, but not too much change“. But it is change in the areas that need it and this is crucial to what the Improvement Panel has highlighted many times – the need for a change in the culture and that as a council the need to be open and transparent and working in genuine partnership.
As backbenchers, many of us have felt frustrated over the past year and have felt left out of the decision making processes that are so important in the democracy of local government. Ian has promised a style of leadership that draws on the talents of all, that consults and involves and recognises that there is the need for the Council to have a genuine relationship with all. This recognition extends to include partners and stakeholders, working together to form a collective solution to the immense challenges that we face.
Our young population is a huge an asset to Birmingham, yet too many young people do not have the opportunities they need to grow, thrive and achieve the great things of which they are capable. In the hustings on Friday night, Ian gave us a brief glimpse of his vision for the young people of Birmingham and I found this inspiring and refreshing. Ian recognises and values the services supporting young people across the City and offers something that had been lacking – genuine opportunities for all of our young people and not just a few.
Ian understands the need for a city wide approach, a shared vision for what a Birmingham that is great for all our young people can and should look like. A vision that continues to empower young people, that works with them to ensure that they become the very best that they can be. And a vision that draws in all partners, stakeholders and business to make a meaningful and long lasting contribution to supporting the dreams and aspirations of our young citizens.
The timing of this election could not be at a more critical juncture for us as a Council and for the City. I will be voting for Ian Ward. I believe he is the only candidate who can lead us safely along the treacherous path we must now take whilst championing the needs and interests of our great city and of all its citizens. I know that many of my fellow colleagues will be voting for Ian for many of the same reasons that I have outlined and will have reasons not touched upon here.
This leadership is so vitally important for the Labour group and for the Council to ensure that together we can work on and identify the solutions needed to tackle the huge issues that we face. I truly believe that we all wish to play our part in collectively taking forward Birmingham’s vision for all of its citizens and this can only be achieved if the leadership election on Monday results in Ian Ward becoming #brumleader.