Thank you Deputy Lord Mayor…

At yesterday’s full council meeting a motion about knife crime was put forward by the Conservative Group.  Councillor Cotton and I were due to be moving an amendment to the motion but unfortunately we were only given the opportunity to do so formerly which meant we could not provide a challenge to what had already been said.

I have a lot of respect for Cllr Yip’s passion for young people and would have welcomed the spirit of his motion. I would have particularly welcomed the chance for debate.

Knife crime is a serious issue and I would have agreed with him that there is much more that needs to be done. But I do have problems with his motion and the fact that it was focused on the ‘welcome action taken by the Government’ and refused to recognise how young people have been systematically let down by his government. He accused us of politicising the issue. I would have pointed out the political neglect by his government.

The motion recognised that more needs to be done both in the short and longer term to get knives and violence off our city’s streets and called for more powers to restrict knife sales and more sustainable funding solutions to enable an increase in police numbers. All good.

But, at the same time, the link between fewer police officers on our streets and the increase in violent crime was totally refuted. This denial mirrored in the government’s serious violence strategy despite a leaked Home Office document suggesting that budget cuts had “likely contributed” to rising violence and “encouraged” offenders.

I didn’t get the chance to speak but I would have pointed out that the crisis we are facing reflects a deeper and much broader societal malaise which has been exacerbated by austerity. The tragedy where we see young people killing other young people, often reported as ‘gang related’ – a catch-all description designed to apportion blame and perpetuate a government agenda which ignores the material reasons why young people are carrying a knife in the first place. Violence is symptomatic of the social inequality and feeling of exclusion in our society.

Nearly 60 years ago, it was a conservative government who recognised that young people needed investment in services that would support and nurture them. This led to the Albermarle Report which highlighted the need for early intervention and prevention and believed that this provision should be available to all young people. This led to the creation of a universal youth service.

Fast forward to the present day – and it is a conservative government who has overseen the near destruction of services for young people across England and Wales with youth services, delivered both by local government and the voluntary sector, now facing the biggest funding crisis for generations.

Spending on ‘youth services’ has been cut by nearly £750m since 2010-11 – it is then no wonder that young people have been left feeling excluded and at odds with society.

Without drastic action by government to invest in youth provision by making youth services a statutory service, they are further condemning young people to becoming a lonely, lost generation with nowhere to turn.

The motion also talked about a new legal duty to underpin its new public health approach and I would have raised the concerns already being cited by trade unions and the workers that they represent. We cannot allow government to wash its hands of responsibility, instead laying blame at the feet of frontline workers, teachers, youth workers, health workers and other professionals for failing to spot violent crime among young people.

The Conservative motion was very long. It raised a lot of points and in response our amendment was long. In fact I really don’t think I would have been able to fit everything I wanted to say in the 4 minutes I should have been allocated.

Whilst the motion and our amendment welcomed inclusion of knife prevention orders into the Offensive Weapons Bill, I would have raised the need now for a pause for thought. In the hurry to calm public anxiety, I don’t believe that the Home Office consulted as widely as they should or could have done. I think if they had consulted youth offending teams, youth workers and those who work directly with young people they may have ended up in a different place. It is vital that sufficient safeguards are built into the proposed legislation to ensure that the full circumstances of any young person are taken into account by the police and by the court before an order is applied for or imposed. These orders must not result in the criminalisation of young people who might themselves be victims of criminal exploitation.

The rise in knife crime is a serious problem that needs serious long term solutions and cannot be solved with knee jerk reactions and hastily drawn up legislation. There are many factors that contribute to the rise in knife crime including poverty and the lack of opportunity.  And austerity.

Austerity is not over and it continues to have a huge impact on public services, the education of future generations and the NHS. Austerity is not working, this clear to see  as the national debt continues to grow. Something else denied by Cllr Yip.

I believe that although the motion was well intended, it chose to ignore some of the hard to swallow consequences of government policy. It also failed to accept responsibility for the devastating effects of austerity on public services and on the lives of those now living in poverty in our city.

Knife crime is a serious problem. It is a social problem – its causes, not its symptoms, must be treated, and austerity, a deliberate political choice, is one of its causes. Austerity has consequences. It abrogates the responsibility to care for, to nurture and to lead children and young people into positive lifestyles. Government needs to invest in young people and need to ensure that local communities have positive services and activities for young people. It needs to legislate for a statutory youth service – a universal offer for all young people. Engaging with young people is sustainable and productive. Imposing interventions on children and young people is short-term and destructive. Young people must be part of the solution to knife crime, not part of the problem.

The things I didn’t get a chance to say in today’s debate on austerity

Lord Mayor,  following the dire result of the General election for the Conservative Party, isn’t  it time that the government listens to the electorate and accepts that our citizens have had their fill of austerity?

Overstretched public sector employees feel increasingly taken for granted as they do far more with far less.

Our public services are delivered by teams and workers in crucial roles across central and local government, health and social care, emergency services, criminal justice and education and have equally earned their right to a pay rise that keeps up with the cost of living.

And on a day where the government are pushing their dubious pro-worker credentials, they also tell teachers that the 1% pay cap will remain firmly in place – another real terms pay cut for the eighth consecutive year. An insult to those whose salaries have fallen 15% behind inflation since 2010.

Quite simply Lord Mayor, the Conservative government has wedded itself to a programme of spending cuts and is oblivious to the damage being done to cities like Birmingham, to the services we deliver and to those citizens who depend on those services.

Chancellor Philip Hammond has said in public that the government recognises that its poor performance in the election was partly due to the public being weary of public spending cuts but still austerity continues..

During the decade between 2010/11 and 2019/20, total public sector spending will have fallen by 13%, or almost a sixth, in real terms . And these cuts to local authority budgets, our budgets, are having a profound effect on the services people receive.

As you know Lord Mayor, here in Birmingham, our budget has lost over £600m since 2010 – a figure so immense it is difficult to comprehend.

And make no mistake, we are hurting – our communities are hurting, despite our very best efforts to shelter our poorest people and places from the worst effects. Our poorest communities and our most vulnerable residents – hardest hit and least able to cope without the services we can no longer provide.

Across the UK, youth services and Connexions services have been slashed, with councils closing youth clubs up and down the country. Here in Birmingham we have done our best to protect these services, but make no mistake, our staff are having to do far more with far less.

And our young people Lord Mayor – facing incredibly tough challenges, a generation taken for granted and abandoned by this government.

It is our young people who find themselves on the wrong side of a profound unfairness which has left them worse of than their parents, with worse job security and poorer housing prospects. The 20th century promise that each generation would be better of than the preceding one has been broken and the dissatisfaction of our younger citizens clearly seen with record numbers of young people turning out to vote in the general election. No more will they be taken for granted, no longer will their voices be unheard.

And today, the Prime Minister is relaunching herself, appealing to the Labour party for ideas to improve the country and pledging to tackle inequality and injustice… yes really.

I believe that Jeremy has sent her something to help her out.

Lord Mayor. it would be laughable if it wasn’t so serious!

Surely the British public left her under no illusion in terms of what they wanted and clearly the electorate in Birmingham spoke loudly and clearly at the ballot boxes.

You see, politics is about choices, and there is always a choice and always an alternative.

The choice for the government is clear – a fairer and more just society will only be achieved when it is accepted that austerity has failed the many.

Birmingham needs a fair funding settlement that allows local government services to be adequately resourced, that allows all our residents, and particularly our poorest and most vulnerable, access to the vital services they need, and that allows our workers to be fairly rewarded for the contribution they all make.

If you believe in equality, fairness and justice then vote for an end to austerity and fair funding for Birmingham.


Baverstock Academy shoes fracas!

This is not the first time young people have been sent home from schools because they do not meet the required uniform policy in some way and I am sure it will not be the last but is it the right course of action to take?

Although a school uniform policy can be beneficial to schools pupils and parents this is only when it is correctly implemented. If it is not, and where changes are made part way through a year then there is the risk of marginalising and disadvantaging both young people and their parents.

The cost of school uniform, particularly for senior school years, is already high with the majority of items having to be purchased from specialist shops. Bringing in a change to the current policy, even with a six week notice period, can cause financial hardship to parents, especially where they have more than one child in that school. If you are going to change uniform policy then this needs to be done sensibly and with due regard to parents and young people.

[1]DSCF guidance stated:

Consideration surely should be given to the timeframe for introducing a new uniform policy or amending an existing one. Factors should include the length of time before the pupil leaves the school and a transitional period for phasing out the old uniform and introducing the new one should be considered.

Where a pupil is not adhering to school uniform policy, a school should be considerate and discreetly try to establish why not. There may be good reasons why a pupil is not attending school in the correct uniform. For example, their uniform may have been lost, stolen or damaged. Sending the pupil home or excluding them may not be appropriate in every case. If a pupil is not wearing the correct uniform because their parents are in financial difficulties, a school should be sensitive to the needs of the pupil. A school should give parents time to purchase the required items and/or consider whether a school or local authority clothing grant can be supplied. A pupil should not be made to feel uncomfortable, nor discriminated against, because their parents are unable to provide them with the required items of school uniform.

In 2010 Michael Gove, the then Secretary for Education for the Tories renamed the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) to the Department of Education and with this change he sanctioned [2]new guidelines:

Pupil non –compliance

Teachers can discipline pupils for breaching the school’s rules on appearance or uniform. This should be carried out in accordance with the school’s Published behaviour policy.

A head teacher, or a person authorised by the head teacher, may ask a pupil to go home briefly to remedy a breach of the school’s rules on appearance or uniform. When making this decision schools need to consider the child’s age and vulnerability, the ease and time it will take, and the availability of the child’s parents.

This is not an exclusion but an authorised absence. However, if the pupil continues to breach uniform rules in such a way as to be sent home to avoid school, or takes longer than is strictly necessary to effect the change, the pupil’s absence may be counted as an unauthorised absence. In either case the pupil’s parents must be notified and the absence should be recorded. If a school is considering excluding a pupil in response to breaches of uniform policy then this must be in line with the legal requirements for exclusion.

Sending young people home, or rather barring young people from the classroom and putting them in ‘holding pens’ (as reportedly happened at Baverstock) until they are collected by their parents is a ridiculous over reaction that undermines any level of rapport and respect between head teacher and pupil and potentially damages the relationship between home and school.

I really do hope that school governors examine this action and revisit their school policy to question if the prescribed treatment of young people is really conducive to ensuring the very best education that they can possibly provide for our young people in Birmingham and perhaps energies should rather be put into the development of a policy and practice around school uniform that removes stigmatisation and contributes to the wider target of the eradication of child poverty and disadvantage.

[1] DCSF –


PSPO’s – an extra weapon in police armoury or another way of stigmatising young people?


Birmingham City Council is the first council in the region to use a public space protection order (PSPO) in a crackdown on anti-social behaviour in Sheldon, Shard End, Gospel Farm in Acocks Green, and Bankside near Springfield.

The order bans:

  • the riding a motorcycle or quad bike “antisocially”
  • Groups of three or more people from ‘engaging in activities which are likely to cause nuisance, annoyance, harassment, alarm or distress’ including vandalism, littering and threats of violence.
  • Alcohol, graffiti and the taking of intoxicating substances
  • The wearing of face coverings in an attempt to conceal identity including scarves, balaclavas and masks

Whilst I agree with some of the banned activities that do create real problems for the residents in our communities like the inconsiderate riding of motorcycles and quads, alcohol, graffiti and drug taking which are real problems across many of our Wards, I have real concerns with some of the other activities banned, and that could have serious consequences for some young people.

Each PSPO creates new criminal offence, which can be punished by an on-the-spot fine of up to £100, or a fine upon conviction of up to £1000 and these offences can be determined by a police officer, a PCSO or by an officer of the Council.

How you ‘determine’ anti social activity is subjective and these PSPO’S could result in young people being criminalised merely for standing in a group or wearing a scarf that covers their face. I wear a scarf that covers my mouth and nose in this cold weather; will I be the subject of a PSPO?

The creation of these unnecessary new offences such as ‘causing an annoyance’ is unlikely to increase young people’s respect for the criminal law or public authority. Such behaviour might merit a telling off, not a fine and potential criminal record. Young people will be stigmatised, stereotyped and labelled.

Birmingham is the youngest city in Europe and whilst on the one hand we are working hard to champion the rights of young people it seems that on the other we are creating more and more rules and laws to control and even criminalise our young people. Drawing young people into the criminal justice system will have long lasting and negative affects and as a council, we must look at other options and other ways of tackling ‘problem’ behaviour.

My vote for #brumleader

  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.
PM2151859  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.

The estate we’re in: how working class people became the ‘problem’ | Lisa McKenzie | Society | The Guardian

Lisa McKenzie writes “…my research, my book, and my own journey as a working-class woman who has earned a career at the London School of Economics, shows how wrong the mainstream politicians have got this. I have fought hard to get to a place with the networks that will allow me to have a platform to speak and to be heard. And I will continue to fight.”

via The estate we’re in: how working class people became the ‘problem’ | Lisa McKenzie | Society | The Guardian.

British values?

Have a read of Paul Bernal’s blog and his take on Gove’s “British values” – I’m with Paul on this one…

Paul Bernal's Blog

Whenever I hear the words ‘British values’ it sends shivers down my spine – and gives me a deep sense of suspicion as to the motives of those using the words. Michael Gove’s evocation is the latest but he’s far from alone – a good deal of UKIP’s ‘appeal’ rests on some kind of a sense of ‘British values’, while Labour are just as guilty of it as the Tories.

Perhaps I’m jaundiced – and perhaps it’s something about my age – but I’m also always reminded of the excellent Tom Robinson song ‘Power in the Darkness’, which sums it up for me. The key part is this:

“Today, institutions fundamental
To the British system of government are under attack
The public schools, the house of lords
The church of England, the holy institution of marriage
Even our magnificent police force are no longer safe
From those who would undermine…

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One of Britain’s holy cows?

I stayed in a violent marriage for 16 years and if you pay any credence to Messent’s argument that makes me one of Britain’s holy cows.

I met my first husband when I was just 18. By the time I was 23 we had become a family of four. The violence started just after the birth of our first child and I was beaten on an almost daily basis for the following fourteen years.

Messent’s article suggests that women who stay in abusive relationships are somehow to blame for their abuse. She victim blames by suggesting that ‘women allow themselves to be used as punch bags’ and fails to identify the very real fact that many women feel that they have no real choices.

Messent ends by asking “Why, then, is it also the offence so many women baulk at taking to court, their silence perpetuating the evils used to control them?”. This statement in itself provides the answer to her argument but she fails to recognise it and her article does nothing more than assist in perpetuating the common myths associated to domestic violence.

The tons of research undertaken over the years shows that women in violent relationships are more often than not isolated from family and friends and usually left financially dependent on the abuser.  We also know that even if women were able to leave, they are too scared to leave. This fact is totally ignored by Messent and the fact that more than 70 percent of violence happens after a woman has left. Messent’s statement that “The women who allow themselves to be used as punch bags are often their own worst enemies.” clearly shows this.

The reality of abuse and more importantly the reasons for staying in an abusive relationship are far more complex than Messent’s simplistic argument offers. But using this simplistic approach – women in abusive relationships have no power.

The effects of domestic violence touches every aspect of your life. If being beaten, bitten and kicked on a daily basis isn’t bad enough, then there is the sexual violence. Beaten, raped and made to feel worthless. You are isolated. You are humiliated. If someone tells you enough times that it is your fault…you start beginning to believe it. You become an unwilling accomplice in hiding it from others. Yes there are days when you want to be beaten – as this is better than waiting all day for the inevitable beating. There are days when you want to be beaten so that your kids don’t witness it when they come home from school. There are days when you want to be beaten so that you don’t get dragged out of work, humilated and then beaten.

It is far too easy to question the reason that women ‘choose to stay’ and to blame women when they don’t report the abuse to the police but when you are living in a violent relationship there are quite simply no easy solutions.

The 1 in 5 Myth: Are youth services value for money?


It is easy to look at the figure that only 1 in 5 young people (20%) use youth clubs and think something is wrong, but there’s a lot going on beneath a simple headline. Statutory youth services are only one part of an offer to young people, and that in fact the highest use of youth clubs in the E.U is Ireland where ‘26% of young people in Ireland participate in youth clubs or organizations.’ (NYCI, 2012) Yet the same report found youth service were excellent value for money. So what lies behind the 1 in 5 number?

Read more from Informally Youth

Conservatives Condemn Themselves to Opposition

An interesting read from The Political Idealist

The Political Idealist

Press stories are circulating this morning about David Cameron’s determination to avoid a second-term coalition with the Liberal Democrats. It is said that Cameron wants a firm commitment in the Conservatives’ 2015 manifesto to rule out a power-sharing coalition in the event of another hung parliament. In the event of the Conservative Party failing to secure a majority, it would seek to form a single-party minority government. It’s fully understandable that Cameron feels the need to placate his party after it has spent the past 4 years having several of its favourite policies vetoed by the Lib Dems (or the “yellow peril” as one Conservative backbencher described them). Yet in doing so, Cameron has almost entirely eliminated the prospect of a second Conservative-led government.

There are several assumptions which lead to this conclusion. They are assumptions, but they are valid ones. Firstly, the Conservatives’ popularity peaked in 2010. After half…

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