Birmingham City Council coup a threat to Labour Party democracy

From the Left Horizons website 1 June –

By a Birmingham Labour Party member

The removal of Birmingham City Council Leader Ian Ward on 20 May was a coup by the Labour Party HQ machinery, because the Starmer leadership panicked about commissioners being sent in to run the authority. The UK’s second city now has a new Leader and Deputy Leader – and not one single member of the Labour Party in Birmingham had a vote or even a say on it!

This is no left-right battle, but rather a ‘blue-on-blue’ struggle, as the right wing Labour Group were actually following the sort of policies and tactics Starmer and the Labour bureaucracy have advocated for local government.

In April the government just stopped short of sending in commissioners after a scandal caused by the failure of an IT system, Oracle, brought in to handle the City Council’s accounts. It was reported at the time that the new system had gone £18m over its supposed original cost of £20m to install. It has resulted in wages and bills being unpaid – teachers have even reported bailiffs turning up at their school because suppliers have not been paid.

Birmingham City Council is the largest local authority in Europe, with a £3bn annual budget. The Starmer leadership were terrified that should commissioners be sent in – which is still a possibility – the Tories and their media would say ‘look, Labour can’t even run a big council, how do they expect to run a national economy?’ And so the coup was unleashed and now Starmer can say ‘Ah yes, but I’ve already taken executive action on that…’ and hope that the issue disappears in the run up to the general election.

How the coup was organised

How the coup happened was like this. Last year the national Labour leadership announced the formation of ‘Campaign Improvement Boards’ made up of the Labour great and good in the local authority world. These, we were told, would work with Labour councils to see how they could improve local election results by better targeting of local services.

The CIB started ‘working’ with Birmingham City Council last September, and opened up a large can of worms. Having tried to square the circle of never-ending cuts, the right wing Labour Group has left a trail of chaos.

UNISON has pointed out that Birmingham has the worst industrial relations record of any local council. It had the long running Care Workers and Refuse collection battles, which could have been resolved far earlier on, but were dragged out because of belligerent management tactics. In the last six months of 2022 alone, the Labour council caused another three disputes. The Single Status dispute has still not been resolved, and thousands of pounds have been wasted by the City Council hiring barristers to challenge the unions in the courts.

Thousands more have been thrown at consultants for issues that could have been resolved in-house: the joke goes that there is a rotating door installed at the Town Hall for all the consultants who rapidly come and go, whether Ernest & Young, Price Waterhouse or KPMG. Yet nothing seems to get resolved.

The Oracle scandal has turned out to be far worse than anyone thought; after Cllr Ward was ousted, it was discovered that the overspend was not £18, but £80m! So we have now spent £100m on a system that still doesn’t function properly.

Dysfunctional and factional leadership

The government’s Regulator of Social Housing has found 23,000 of Birmingham’s social housing properties have serious health and safety risks.

There has been dysfunctional and factional leadership by the Labour Group. At present, the Labour Group elect a Leader, and then the Leader decides who is in the City Council Cabinet to run departments (and get the enhanced salaries): it has meant a right wing Labour Group squabbling like cats in a bag over who gets what.

Of course, all the above has been known and complained about by the trade unions and rank and file party members for years. Action is only being taken now because the Starmer leadership want to park a big problem before the general election.

The action was swift. The CIB produced a scathing 20-page report, accusing the Labour Group of “misogyny, harassment, and racism” in a “dysfunctional climate”. Cllr Ward was told to resign, and when he refused the NEC told the Labour Group that the NEC and officials from outside the region would select suitable new Leader and Deputy Labour candidates from those members of the Labour Group who put themselves forward, who the Labour Group could then vote on.   The NEC and officials then decided that of those who had put themselves forward, only two were suitable. So – surprise, surprise – there was no need for an election, and the two were imposed.

Even Steve McCabe, right wing Labour MP for Selly Oak and chair of the Labour Friends of Israel, saw the coup as a ‘hatchet job’.

Labour’s right wing in Birmingham are furious. For those of us on the left, despite the seriousness of the situation, we have to admit at times it has been hard to keep a straight face. Here, those who support Starmer’s witch-hunt against the left are now being witch-hunted, with all the tools honed against Corbyn – chicanery, whispers, unevidenced generalised allegations, leaked reports (the BBC got the CIB report long before the City Councillors), investigations and vilification.

This was a “hatchet job” – right wing Labour MP

Bournville Constituency Labour Party, home of many pro-Ward councillors, has written a letter of protest to Starmer’s office, making the fair point that “…there is nothing in the report which provides an evidential basis for summarily removing Ian Ward”. Welcome to our world, comrades!

Prominent in the defence of Cllr Ward is the veteran of the Blair Government, Selly Oak MP, Steve McCabe. He, three other Birmingham Labour MPs and several pro-Ward City Councillors have written to Starmer to complain, with McCabe angrily protesting to the Birmingham media that the CIB report is a “hatchet job” (Birmingham Live, May 17).

What must have annoyed McCabe most was the instruction by the CIB report that: “There will be zero tolerance to intimidating behaviour, micro-aggressions, harassment and vexatious complaints. We remind Councillors of the NEC Codes of Conduct on Sexual Harassment and Gender Discrimination; Antisemitism and other forms of racism…“

Antisemitism? McCabe is, of course, Chair of Labour Friends of Israel. And now his City Council friends have been accused! It shows the antisemitism smear is as hollow used against the right as it was when it was used against the left. For the Starmer clique in Labour Party HQ, it is now just routine mud to fling at anyone who they deem to be a problem. It is actually an insult to the Jewish community that the extremely serious issue of antisemitism is now used so flippantly.

All that said the Labour leadership’s action against Birmingham is a threat to the whole Labour Party. Witch-hunting is now in the DNA of the unelected party officials (whose wages we pay) around the Labour leadership, who dish out the ‘Corbyn treatment’ to anyone they deem a threat. It is now routine for them to by-pass the Labour Party’s democratic processes and party rules.

Decades of local government cut-backs

At the heart of all of Birmingham’s problems are decades of local government cutbacks and 12 years of Tory austerity. Birmingham is in the mess it is in, because the cuts crisis is now so bad that it cannot simply be ‘managed’.

Instead of carrying out undemocratic and merely cosmetic changes to one right wing Labour council which has become an embarrassment, the Labour leadership should be organising all Labour councils – especially after the recent electoral gains – into a united campaign of protests, demonstrations and, if necessary, civic disobedience against the Tory attacks on local government, and to fight to restore the millions that have been stolen from local communities.

Indeed, if the Labour leadership was serious about addressing the problems in Birmingham, they would have come forward with alternative policies and solutions. Instead, who were the alternative Leader and Deputy Leader they hand-picked?  Two equally right wing councillors who were members of the same City Council Cabinet that the Labour leadership has just dismissed as dysfunctional, misogynist and racist. All they have done is shuffle around the deckchairs.


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BRIG – Birmingham Race Impact Group – held its 1 Year Review of the Birmingham Race Equality Manifesto / 10 Year Plan on Thursday 25 May, chaired by Jagwant Johal. (See the Manifesto below.)

The Manifesto was first launched on 21st March 2022 – UN Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. “ ‘Race’ in the BRIG Manifesto is inclusive of all marginalised identities and we understand how those at the intersection of multiple marginalised identities may face further discrimination.” @WeAreBrig.

Campaigners met together last week in person to discuss progress on the Manifesto so far and what the next steps should be. The meeting programme included reports on the Thematic Summits working groups: Voluntary, Community, Faith and Social Enterprise; Health; Criminal Justice; Employment; Education; Further Education; Environment & Climate Change. There were 2 Councillors present: Jilly Bermingham and Lisa Trickett, who gave the report on Climate. BCC responses were given on Zoom by Suwinder Bains, Equality and Cohesion Manager.

There is one sector which BRIG needs more involvement in, and which needs to get much more involved in BRIG: the trade union movement. Only one union had an official representative at the meeting – the NEU. The unions are of course key participants in campaigns against racism in Birmingham. It would be very useful to begin to put together a picture of racism in workplaces in the city – including non-unionised ones. But we also need to look at racial equality within the unions themselves, in terms of the composition of leading bodies, racial issues within the unions, and their role in anti-racist campaigning.

RH 29 May 2023


A person’s “race” or skin colour can never define who anybody is but, sadly, in the world we live in, these are factors which do affect the socio-economic status and the life-chances of us citizens of Birmingham. This is a super diverse city, especially in terms of race, nationality, religion, belief and culture. More than half the city’s population is of Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic origin, as 65% of our school children are already.

The Birmingham Race Equality Manifesto was initiated by BRIG. This was both supported and adopted by political parties contesting local elections on 5th May 2022. BRIG will now be seeking formal adoption of the manifesto at Full Council to secure its implementation.

  1. Make Birmingham the first Anti-Racist City in the UK. Let’s be proactive in tackling the roots of systemic racism and not just the symptoms.
  2. Adopt a 10 Year Race Equality Delivery Plan for key sectors through annual targets over the next decade.
  3. Conduct a Survey of Racial Attitudes every two years, to respond to any shifts in the City’s racial attitudes and the City’s community cohesion
  4. Promote the 3-year rolling Boards Diversity Challenge to ensure Birmingham’s Boards and management teams are reflective of the City’s superdiversity
  5. Establish cross city Race Inequality Metrics to measure race impact and benchmark race inequality indicators to assess progress.
  6. The City’s public agencies should formally adopt a duty requiring them to reduce socio-economic disadvantage through their decision making by adopting Section 1 of the Equalities Act 2010.
  7. Encourage key Birmingham Institutions to publish Annual Ethnicity Pay Gap data. 
  8. Persuade more Birmingham Institutions to adopt the Race Equality Code, thus joining the growing number of early adopters in the city who can be audited on their progress.
  9. Acknowledge the historic role by city institutions in the slave-trade, commemorating it like London, Liverpool and Bristol have done.
  10. Support all Birmingham schools with teaching Black, Asian and Marginalised Community Histories. This is already the case in Wales, so why not Birmingham
  11. Develop and adopt a Schools Race Equality Standard for all city schools to achieve. (This should be added formally to the City Council’s 7-year schools improvement contract with the Birmingham Education Partnership). 
  12. Establish a cross sector Race Equality Community Fund to support projects tackling systemic racism and community projects enhancing race equality and community cohesion.
  13. Develop and implement a Birmingham Leadership White Paper to deliver the leadership required for a super diverse city.
  14. Agree a detailed Legacy Delivery Plan and framework for the 2022 Commonwealth Games (beyond simply stating strategic intent) to be shared with the city’s citizens by the Games Organising Committee, its partners and the City Council prior to the Games.
  15. Establish a National Centre for World Cultures which creates a shared space to celebrate Birmingham as a superdiversity city.

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Open up public participation in local government with Digital Democracy

One of the key issues facing the WMCA, Birmingham City Council and all the other WM Councils is what they do about public participation. Birmingham’s “Statement of Community Involvement (SCI) sets out how we consult on new plans, policies and planning applications, to ensure that Birmingham City Council respond appropriately and consistently to the views and needs of local communities, businesses and stakeholders.” (2 Feb 2023).

BCC now has a new Leader, Cllr John Cotton, imposed unilaterally by Keir Starmer. Cllr Cotton was responsible for the BCC policy ‘Everyone’s Battle, Everyone’s Business Equality Action Plan for 2022/23’. It says “We will put those who are affected by inequalities at the heart of designing solutions”. That means the vast majority of the population of Birmingham. So what will the new regime do about making sure their voices will be heard in policy-making?

There are some existing examples of consultation. BCC’s People for Public Services Forum meets monthly to bring together citizens of Birmingham with officers from Birmingham City Council Adult Social Care “to discuss current and future services”. But we don’t know what influence their views have. And in the March 2023 ‘Bolder Greener Bulletin’ Ellie Horwich-Smith, Birmingham’s Assistant Director of Route to Zero, says We want to make sure that the public are at the heart of our work, and to achieve this, public involvement in policy making needs to be genuinely meaningful and purpose driven, whilst also engaging diverse parts of the population”. But she hasn’t spelled out yet how this will be achieved.

Public participation is also a policy of the WMCA. The WMCA’s statement on ‘Power and participation’ (7 March 2023) says “Power and participation are about the extent to which people have a voice in influencing the things that matter to them”. For example, its Greener Together Citizens Panel aims to “Bring together representatives of the WMCA with all those across the region who are committed to cutting carbon emissions and enhancing the natural environment to discuss, collaborate and debate different initiatives”.

And yet in practice there is very little evidence of public participation in shaping the policies either of BCC or the WMCA, for several reasons:

  • There are very few meetings, in-person or online, where citizens can hope to propose or influence policy.
  • Many people are not able to take part in in-person meetings, for various reasons.
  • The agenda is set and the meetings are run by those in power, and participation is limited largely to responding to their plans, with citizens having little opportunity to initiate their own proposals, let alone have them implemented.
  • Meetings may be infrequent. For example, the Greener Together Citizens Panel only meets four times a year for 2 hours.
  • The vast majority of people are not aware of these opportunities to influence policy and how to access them.

Why we need Digital Democracy and why we should learn from Barcelona

 “In January this year a pan-European citizen jury voted Barcelona the first European Capital of Democracy. Barcelona has a rich history of official and citizen initiatives in political and economic democracy. One received a special mention from the jurors: Decidim. [We Decide in the Catalan language] Decidim is a digital platform for citizen participation. Through it, citizens can propose, comment, debate, and vote on urban developments, decide how to spend city budgets, and design and contribute to local strategies and plans.” [1]

Barcelona’s 50 page presentation (December 2022) says: [2]

“With the development of the platform, Barcelona has consolidated a model of open citizen participation, where fundamental rights such as transparency, traceability, privacy and accessibility are guaranteed, but it also constitutes a model of flexible participation that allows multiple participation needs to be channelled: proposals, debates, meetings, surveys, public consultations, citizen assemblies, citizen initiatives, voting, etc…”

Launched in 2016, now has more than 150,000 registered citizens. “The platform has made great leaps in quality with the city‘s major participatory processes such as the participatory budgets or the citizen assemblies.” But it is not meant to be a substitute for in-person meetings. “Decidim has encouraged wider public use by taking the platform back to the streets and using it alongside offline methods to engage people in issues that matter to them.”

Open-source development using free software

“What makes Decidim stand out, according to our research, is developer commitment to democratising technology development itself and embedding it within struggles for democracy offline and online.” [1]

One consequence is Decidim’s international take-up.

“The international impact of the Decidim platform is another success of the city; 450 instances in 30 countries, and more than 1.3 millions of people using the platform around the world.”

“The project has transcended the local scale and has spread to public administrations and social organisations, both in Catalonia and the rest of Spain, as well as to other countries such as France, Mexico, Belgium, Switzerland, Japan and Finland. Decidim has been translated into more than 50 languages worldwide, having currently more than 450 active instances (institutions and organisations).” [2]

But digital democracy won’t work unless local government acts on it

“Achieving engagement and meaningful collaboration through digital technologies requires a better understanding of what hinders governments and citizens from being able to effectively collaborate, both online and offline. Barriers to effective citizen participation include poor public knowledge of the issues treated, poor provision of information, poor execution of participatory methods, low adoption, the digital divide, lack of representativeness of participants, lack of political support, failure to influence the decision-making processes, regulatory constraints or the use of these tools for political propaganda. Moreover, public administrations are often not clear about the objectives of these initiatives. All of this can give rise to different types of tensions and conflicts, disappointment and reluctance to engage in future processes”. [3]

That’s the argument of ‘Decide Madrid: A Critical Analysis of an Award-Winning e-Participation Initiative’ by Sonia Royo, Vicente Pina and Jaime Garcia-Rayado, 2020. This is a case study of Decide Madrid, which uses Consul, a similar platform to Barcelona’s Decidim. Consul is used in more than 100 institutions from 33 countries, including Porto Alegre.

“Although the citizens interviewed have been critical and sometimes have questioned the levels of participation and the effectiveness of Decide Madrid, both citizens and municipal staff consider that Decide Madrid is necessary, which supports the success of this initiative. This agreement among interviewees evidences the high motivation for e-participation and direct citizen participation for both the city council and the citizens, although it seems that both citizens and the city council need more time to adapt to online direct participation.”

“Two examples of successful participatory activities are the proposals of “Madrid 100% sustainable” and “Single ticket for public transport”, which obtained enough support to reach the voting phase and won. Other successful practices are the participatory budgets and the poll initiated by the city council to refurbish which eleven squares, including Plaza de España.”

Digital democracy can help build mass public pressure for action

Digital democracy can enable citizens to put forward progressive policies and build large-scale public pressure on local councils to put them into practice. That is why it is essential that the WMCA and Councils in the West Midlands, including Birmingham, make it a priority to develop the capacity to integrate E-participation into their policy-making processes. This can be done. The digital platforms are available to use.

But we all know that public demands on local government are often blocked by the neoliberal class interests of the Tory government, interests which are relayed by local government, whether willingly or not. Which is why digital democracy is not a solution on its own, it needs to be coupled with mass street-based and workplace-based campaigning.

Richard Hatcher

23 May 2023


  1. Adrian Smith and Pedro Prieto Martín, ‘Decidim: why digital tools for democracy need to be developed democratically’, The Loop, March 14 2023.
  2. See also and For a recent analysis of radical governance in Barcelona see 
  3. ‘Decide Madrid: A Critical Analysis of an Award-Winning e-Participation Initiative’, by Sonia Royo,Vicente Pina and Jaime Garcia-Rayado, Sustainability 2020, 12(4). Special Issue ‘Citizen Participation in Sustainable Local Decision-Making’.

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The West Midlands Combined Authority is not democratic. What can we learn from the London Assembly?

The WMCA Assembly is not democratically accountable to the citizens of the West Midlands. They don’t elect its members, apart from the Mayor, and they have no voice in what it does. Is the London Assembly a model to copy?

The first thing about the London Assembly that a West Midlands Assembly shouldn’t copy is that it is very small. London, like Birmingham, has a Mayor who is elected. The big difference between London and all the Combined Authorities, including of course the WMCA, is that London also has an elected Assembly. But it is surprisingly small, with only 25 Members. They are elected at the same time as the Mayor, though separately. The Assembly’s 25 Members represent 9 million Londoners. By comparison, Kensington and Chelsea, London’s least populated borough, has 50 councillors for 150,000 residents. And Birmingham has 101 councillors to represent 1.3million residents.

The London Assembly was designed by Tony Blair when he was prime minister. As Mario Washington-Ihieme says in her 2021 article ‘How the London Assembly scrutinises the Mayor’, “It was the intention of government to conceive a lean and strategic Assembly, to avoid recreating the mightier and highly political Greater London Council (92 seats) or its predecessor, the London County Council (150 seats). A small Assembly also means lower running costs (out of the GLA’s £708 million 2019/20 budget, £8 million was spent on London Assembly functions).” (All the subsequent quotes below are from Mario’s article.)

14 of the 25 London Assembly Members are elected by constituencies and 11 are elected by proportional representation by the whole population of London to represent the whole capital. PR has increased the representation of smaller parties and of women in the Assembly.

What does the London Assembly do?

 The “primary responsibility of the Assembly is to scrutinise the Mayor’s actions – this includes the budget, the London Plan and other strategies, and the bodies under mayoral control: Transport for London, the Metropolitan Police, the London Fire Brigade, development corporations and The London Economic Action Partnership”. The Assembly has set up the following 12 committees: Audit, Budget and Performance, Confirmation Hearings, Economy, Environment, Fire, Resilience and Emergency Planning, GLA Oversight, Health Committee, Housing Committee, Planning and Regeneration Committee, Police and Crime Committee, Transport Committee. In addition, the Assembly questions the Mayor ten times a year at Mayor’s Question Time. Assembly meetings are public. The Mayor should respond to Assembly motions and formal recommendations, and must consult Assembly Members before producing statutory strategies and the multi-billion pound budget for the GLA Group.

 This is a very large workload for 25 members to carry out effectively. In comparison the WMCA has 11 committees including the governing Board, with a total of 110 councillors involved in at least one.

Workload issues of WMCA councillors

Councillors with roles in the WMCA have a different workload issue. Most if not all are also members of committees of their local Council, and they also have their ward responsibilities. In addition many have other jobs. But Councillors are not paid extra for their WMCA role – just allowances for travel and subsistence. In contrast the London Assembly members receive an annual salary of £59,000. This compares with the basic salary for Birmingham councillors of £18,573. Cabinet members get an additional sum of £28,119, but even Council leader Ian Ward’s salary of £56,240 is less than the London Assembly members get.

There is an important implication here for power relations between councillors and officers in the WMCA. For councillors it is a part-time role along with their other responsibilities, while for the officers who they have to deal with it is a full-time and very well-paid job with control of all the knowledge resources. The WMCA has 72 officers. The lowest paid are on £60-80,000 a year, the 5 Executive Directors such as Ed Cox, the Director of Strategy, Integration and Net Zero, are paid between £120,000 and £140,000 a year, and Laura Shoaf, the Chief Executive, is paid between £175,000 and £200,500 a year. Meanwhile the citizens who contribute to the Greener Together Forum and the Citizens Panel do so for free.

The London Assembly members have very little power over the Mayor

The second thing about the London Assembly that a West Midlands Assembly shouldn’t copy is that, whatever the results of the scrutiny processes, the Mayor of London is largely immune to Assembly members’ criticisms and proposals.

“For the Assembly to oppose or amend mayoral strategies, and to amend the GLA Group Budget, it has to reach a two-thirds majority – making the odds of winning a vote very low. Critics say this neutralises the Assembly while those in favour argue it enables the Mayor to act freely without the pressure of petty politics. To this day, the Assembly has never formally amended the Mayor’s annual budget, even when the Mayor’s party did not hold the majority of seats in the Assembly (this happened after the 2012 election, when Londoners elected a conservative Mayor but a labour majority in the Assembly). However, the Assembly’s power to amend the budget has on occasion pushed the Mayor’s office to strike deals with different party groups to ensure that it can pass.”

Mario concludes her article by saying there is

“a bit of an identity crisis for the London Assembly. Should it remain a scrutiny body with ‘soft’ power – or should it have more say over the Mayor’s decisions? Does it have the resources to evaluate the Mayor’s policies, given the Mayor has been granted additional powers over the police force, housing, skills and employment, planning and transport? The London Assembly cannot veto on the London Plan yet the Secretary of State has the power to direct changes in cases of inconsistency with national policy.”

“There is still an evident imbalance between Mayoral power and the Assembly’s influence within London’s government. Until this is addressed, the role of the scrutiny body will remain advisory and opinions on policies and statutory strategies will hardly be a constraint to the Mayor’s action.”

One consequence is that “Most Londoners are hardly even aware of who the Assembly members are, let alone their responsibilities”.

Some principles for a West Midlands Assembly

The London Assembly is far too small. We need a WM Assembly of at least 100 members. The members should be elected on a proportional geographical basis in each of the 7 LAs. That would make Birmingham the largest Council group with 40 members.

There needs to be an element of proportional representation in each LA-based election to ensure that small parties are represented, and also to ensure gender representation. At present the WMCA Board consists of 24 men and 9 women, so women are 27%. If we include only the Councillors on the Board there are 20 men and 6 women with a vote, so women are 23%.

Each Local Authority group of West Midlands Assembly members needs to be known to their electorate and to be in some way both actively representative of their views and informing their views in a dialogic relationship. This could be achieved by a combination of two methods. One would be regular open meetings (ideally hybrid in-person and online) with all the Assembly members in each LA for issues to be raised and discussed. There could also be sectoral open meetings with Assembly members based on specific issues. The second method would be a digital platform for citizen participation and discussion with Assembly members, such as is already in use in many cities in other countries.

Richard Hatcher

16 May 2023

Mario Washington-Ihieme ‘How the London Assembly scrutinises the Mayor’ 18 January 2021.

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A Labour Government should make the unelected WMCA accountable to a democratically elected WM Assembly

Local democratic control means citizens elect their representatives directly to local Councils. But there is no direct democracy in the WMCA. The Councillors who run it are not democratically accountable to local citizens, they are appointed by their local Council leaders. We need a democratically elected West Midlands Assembly – and Richard Parker, Labour’s candidate for WM Mayor in 2024, should be building support for it now.

What can we learn from the West Midlands Regional Assembly?

The West Midlands Regional Assembly (WMRA) was set up in 1999 and abolished in 2010. It was based in Birmingham. The Assembly was the Regional Planning Body, responsible for developing a Regional Spatial Strategy. The main functions of the WMRA included feeding regional opinions to the business-led regional development agency Advantage West Midlands, to Government bodies and to the EU.

The Assembly consisted of 100 members but it was not an elected body. None of the Assembly members were directly elected to the Assembly. 68 were councillors nominated from local authorities across the region. (Birmingham had 13.) 16 were from the business sector. And 16 were from regional interest groups such as trade unions, parish councils and environmental groups.

‘Appointed representation’

In Thomas Oliver’s 2011 PhD thesis ‘Representation in the Appointed State: The Case of Councillors in the West Midlands Regional Assembly’ he notes the spread of non-elected quasi governmental bodies – quangos – since the 1980s (extracts from pages 1-2):

These bodies exert a high degree of control and influence yet are largely formed on a wholly or largely appointed basis.

The extended use of appointed bodies for a public purpose therefore leads to a problem of a democratic deficit due to the absence of both an electoral process and other mechanisms through which the public can influence the body and hold it to account.

The tensions emerging due to the democratic deficit have led to the reform of some quangos in terms of their appointed composition. Local authorities have created and become participants in a broad range of non-elected bodies such as public private partnerships, local enterprise partnerships, and joint boards. These bodies are different from traditional quangos by virtue of their membership being largely or entirely made up by elected local councillors nominated by constituent local authorities.

Despite the fact that indirectly elected bodies maintain their roots in elected local government this does not mean that they are any more representative or accountable to the citizens. The conceptual context of difference to traditional elected representative democracy remains, as appointed members are not subject to either electoral sanction or strict accountability mechanisms. [1]

This is exactly what has been reproduced in the WMCA, as is shown in two recent articles on BATC: ‘The neo-liberal depoliticisation of the West Midlands by the WMCA’ (March 13) and ‘The erosion of democracy in local government: Birmingham and the WMCA’ (April 13). The West Midlands Regional Assembly was not an alternative model of local government to the WMCA today but an earlier version of its regional governance by ‘appointed representation’.

The growing public dissatisfaction with neoliberal politics presents a challenge to the Combined Authority’s model of ‘appointed representation’. So a key part of the post-political repertoire today is various forms of ‘citizen engagement’ designed to give people the impression that they have some influence. They also serve as instruments to attempt to manage and change public behaviour. That is why the WMCA has recently set up the ‘West Midlands Greener Together Community Forum’ and the Net Zero Citizens Panel. They are feeble substitutes for the genuine elected democratic representation and accountability of the WMCA that the labour movement, local communities and the Labour Party should be demanding.

We need a democratically elected West Midlands Assembly – and Richard Parker, Labour’s candidate for WM Mayor in 2024, should be building support for it now.

The same argument applies to all the growing number of Combined Authorities in England. There are currently 10 with more on the way. None of them have any directly elected members apart from the Mayor. (Only the North East Combined Authority does not have an elected mayor.) The spread of this regional model of representation by appointment rather than direct democratic election, with increasing powers over policy and provision in their regions, means a significant erosion of local government’s accountability to local citizens. (And the increased workload of those local authority councillors who are also appointed to the CAs means in effect that power is increasingly in the hands of CA officers.)

Yet the Labour Party is accepting it without question. This needs to change. Labour should be campaigning now for the democratising of Combined Authorities, opening them up to the voices and demands of local communities and their citizens through the direct election of their representatives.

Richard Hatcher

10 May 2023

The next post on the issue of regional democracy will be about the London Assembly – is it a model for the West Midlands?


  1. Thomas Oliver’s PhD thesis ‘Representation in the Appointed State: The Case of Councillors in the West Midlands Regional Assembly’, 2011, University of Birmingham, is available online at

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On Wednesday 29 March, at around 11 pm, a 73-year-old man was brutally attacked and subjected to Islamophobic abuse by three racist thugs while walking along York Rd, Kings Heath on his way home from a local mosque after Ramadan prayers. His head was smashed against a display board, and he was rushed to the hospital with cuts and bruises to his face and a broken hand. Two 16-year-olds have been arrested by West Midlands Police on suspicion of assault in connection with the attack.

This attack follows an attack on another elderly Muslim man who was set on fire while walking home from another Birmingham Mosque on March 20. These attacks stem from the demonisation of Muslims, migrants, refugees and other minority groups by much of the media and many politicians, of whom the constant racist vitriol poured out by Home Secretary, Suella Braverman is just one example.

Members of Kings Heath’s diverse community, including anti-racist activists and local venue owners, have come together under the banner of Kings Heath United Against Racism to ensure racist Islamophobic attacks don’t go unchallenged and to celebrate the rich cultural diversity of the area and raise awareness of Islamophobia and racism.

A weekender festival is planned to take place from Friday 12 to Sunday 14 May across a number of venues in Kings Heath which include The Fletchers Bar, Kitchen Garden Cafe, Hare & Hounds, The Juke, The Station and the How Brave Is The Wren Bookshop. The Weekender programme consists of live music, DJs, spoken word, storytelling, arts and crafts workshops, mural painting and discussions.

For full details go to


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“Everything about carmaking is changing at once. The industry must reinvent itself to keep pace.”

On April 27 BATC asked “How safe are jobs in the auto industry in Birmingham and the West Midlands?” Here we add to it with key points and extracts from the 10-page special report on the car industry by Simon Wright in the April 22 issue of the Economist journal.

“The emergence of Tesla and the Chinese as serious competitors reflects unprecedented upheaval in the industry. The obvious shift is electrification.” In 2022 around one new car in 10 sold worldwide was a battery-powered electric vehicle (EV). The Chinese company BYD is the largest manufacturer of EV and hybrid electric cars. Tesla is the largest EV manufacturer, selling 1.3 million cars in 2022. EVs and hybrid vehicles went from 0.2% of new car sales a decade ago to 13% in 2022. By 2025 EVS will account for nearly a quarter of sales, and closer to 40% in Europe and China. By 2040 around three-quarters of new car sales worldwide will be fully electric.

The huge Chinese car company BYD plans to construct a European electric vehicle factory, but not in post-Brexit Britain. By 2026 more than 50% of electric vehicles sold globally will be Chinese, it is predicted.

Electrification is transforming car making. Manufacturing electric motors and batteries is much simpler than internal combustion engines, opening up the market to many new companies in China and the USA and making it much more competitive, especially in the context of overall declining car sales. So traditional “legacy” car-makers face a big challenge of transforming their manufacturing. “Not all legacy firms will survive the coming transformation.”

“America’s GM says it will go all electric by 2035 and Ford wants its European arm to do the same by 2030.” “Stellantis, which includes Fiat Chrysler Citroen and Peugeot, is for all new cars in Europe and half its American output to be electric vehicles by 2030. Volkswagen will be EVs only by 2033 in Europe.” Prices of electric cars are coming down. By 2030 most will be equal to that of internal combustion engine cars and they will be cheaper to run.

The first all-electric Jaguars and Land Rovers – but not till 2025

JLR – Jaguar Land Rover – based in the West Midlands, is the second biggest car manufacturer in the UK. (First is Nissan in Sunderland). It produces a plug-in electric hybrid Land Rover. The first all-electric Land Rover will not be available until the end of 2025. According to The Guardian 19 April:

Jaguar Land Rover has said it will invest £15bn over five years as Britain’s largest car-making employer upgrades its factories to produce electric vehicles, including its first UK-made battery car. JLR says first UK-made electric car will be £100,000 Jaguar four-door ‘grand tourer’ built in Solihull.

JLR, which has 36,000 employees, said the £15bn would be spread over its “industrial footprint, vehicle programmes, autonomous, AI and digital technologies and people skills”, although did not set out how the money would be split.

Analysts have long been waiting for information on how JLR would meet its commitments to make Jaguar an all-electric brand by 2025, and to achieve zero carbon emissions by 2039. Some experts have criticised the company for falling behind in the race to produce electric vehicles. Its only fully electric car is the award-winning Jaguar I-Pace, which is built in Austria by a contract manufacturer.

Outsourcing manufacture to the Magna plant at Steyr in Austria is one indicator of how the auto industry is developing. At present it manufactures the Mercedes-Benz G-Class, the conventional and the hybrid version of the BMW 5 series, the BMW Z4, the Jaguar E-PACE and the Jaguar I-PACE electric vehicle, and the Toyota GR Supra.

In the Guardian report “David Bailey, a professor of business economics at the University of Birmingham, said the size of the planned investment was welcome for the British car industry.”

“They’re finally really speeding up the electrification, both on the Jaguar but also on the other brands” including the lucrative Range Rover, a “big earner” for the company, he said. Bailey added that the separate blueprint for Jaguar “does raise the question of whether they will spin it off” as a separate company if its relaunch is successful.”

Where will the batteries come from?

The Guardian reported that “JLR has signed supply agreements for the batteries for its first wave of homegrown electric models, but it is waiting for a decision from Tata on where the parent company will build its own battery cell factory. Tata’s decision is seen as hugely important for the health of the broader UK car industry, after the collapse this year of the startup Britishvolt, which had intended to build a so-called battery gigafactory. Tata has lobbied for as much as £500m in government support for a battery plant in the UK, and it is also considering a site in Spain.” Apparently Tata’s decision is imminent, but it will take at least four years for a new gigafactory to be up and running.

According to the Economist report, battery supply is a constraint on transformation to EVs. Battery making is dominated by China, Japan and South Korea. Six of the top ten firms are Chinese, supplying 60% of the world’s batteries. Most car makers have joint ventures with established battery firms, such as Mercedes-Benz’s with China’s CATL, the world’s biggest battery-maker.

“Manufacturing batteries, which are bulky and make up a big proportion of a car’s value, is better done close to where cars are made and sold. The EU’s car firms have their own plans to weaken China’s grip on battery-making. New incentives to make batteries locally could mean that Europe sees 40 battery gigafactories by 2030. Caught between America and the EU, Britain is looking on nervously.”

“Low volumes and the high cost of batteries make it hard for western legacy firms to switch to making electric vehicles profitably. Swapping drivetrains increases costs for legacy firms by up to 50%, mostly because of the battery, which in turn makes these vehicles less profitable than their internal combustion engine equivalents. Ford says its EV division will lose $3 billion in 2023”.

Rethinking the business model means fewer workers

There is one other factor which particularly affects ‘legacy’ car-makers. According to the Economist:

“Increasing connectivity – by 2030 four cars in five will be internet-enabled, says UBS, which will allow over the air updates to software. For owners it means vehicles can be continuously updated and improved when they buy new features and functions. Legacy carmakers will have the hardest job replicating the advantages of start-ups, for which software is the most important element, and Chinese firms… . Mastering software has become vital for car makers just to stand still. But established firms have to rethink a business model dedicated to mechanical-engineering excellence.”

“Estimates vary over the effect of shifting to less complex EVs that require fewer workers and how many will lose out as the ICE winds down. But there is little disagreement that there will be fewer jobs. Ford announced 3800 job cuts in Europe in February, citing EVs as the cause.”

For a trade union conference on the future of jobs in the West Midlands economy

Tens of thousands of jobs in the West Midlands depend on the car industry. The seismic changes in car production put thousands of jobs at risk. The whole labour movement in the West Midlands needs to get prepared. It needs to develop a plan to protect jobs where possible and to create new well-paid jobs in the region.

A first step would be to organise a trade union conference where the changing landscape of the West Midlands economy can be analysed and strategies for the future that we can all campaign for can be mapped out.

Richard Hatcher 

2 May 2023


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How safe are jobs in the auto industry in Birmingham and the West Midlands?

A combination of factors – Brexit, Covid, increasing costs, semiconductor chip shortages, declining sales to China, net zero targets and the shift towards electric vehicles – is putting automotive firms at risk, and with it thousands of jobs. The UK automotive industry produced 987,044 vehicles in 2020, which was 29.3% less than in 2019.

Alan Thornett, with a long trade union history in the car industry and now a climate campaigner, says on his website:

“car making in Britain has semi-collapsed and is facing possible wipe-out. The industry is a shadow of its previous self and what is left is owned entirely by foreign multi-nationals. Last year its production was the lowest for 66 years. There are two principal reasons for the demise of the UK car industry.

The first is Brexit, which robbed it of its tariff-free entry into the EU single market – which by that time was its principal rationale for existence. It also added reams of export import paperwork that is incompatible to vehicles criss-crossing Europe as a part of just in time production models.

The Honda plant in Swindon announced its closure soon after the Brexit vote. Even Nissan with a major investment in Sunderland would have relocated after the Brexit vote had it not received special backdoor assurances from Downing Street. The Brexit dimension will become even more acute in 2027, when, under the terms of the UK-EU trade deal negotiated by Johnson, all EVs entering the EU must have batteries that were manufactured either in the UK or the EU.

The second is the UK’s disastrous response to the speed of the EV revolution, which has exceeded all expectations, and which has put the plans to end the production of new internal combustion engines (ICEs) by 2030 in Britain and by 2035 in the EU and the USA within reach.” [1]

The auto industry in Birmingham and the West Midlands

A recent paper by Qamar, Collinson and Green at Birmingham University

“explores the financial resilience of the 50 largest automotive firms in the West Midlands region of the UK in their response to disruption and economic shocks. The findings demonstrate that 22 firms are at high risk due to poor current liquidity ratios, with Coventry and Birmingham emerging as locations most susceptible to firm closures. High-risk firms include key flagship original equipment manufacturers operating at the downstream end of supply chains. If these firms were to fail, there would be a significant destructive impact on both the industry and the local economy.” [2]

The paper shows that, in 2019, of the largest 50 automotive firms in the West Midlands by revenue, 22 firms are defined as high risk, with negative profit levels or low profit margins. Together they employ 44,328 people. Tens of thousands more workers are employed by local supply chain companies and other supporting businesses which depend on these large ‘anchor’ firms.

The UK government supports large businesses at risk by the Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CLBILS), but only 11 of these high-risk firms are eligible. As the authors say,

“With 19 firms, Coventry (also encompassing Warwickshire) has the highest number of automotive firms (including high-risk firms) within the top 50 list. Birmingham has the second highest number of firms. Of these 13, five firms are high-risk firms, positioning Birmingham as a high-risk area.”

“Critically important, … Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) and Aston Martin are amongst the high-risk firms. JLR is the largest direct employer (with nearly 33,000 employees) and has a revenue that is over double that of the next largest automotive company in the region (Aston Martin). It supports several tiers of supply chain firms and a wide range of dependent contractors and service firms in the region. If JLR were to shut down, the contagion risks for the West Midlands economy would be severe.”

According to 2018 figures “JLR yields a multiplier of 1:6, so for any single job created within JLR, six jobs are created within production, dealerships/retailers, R&D and direct supply chain jobs.”

Why we need the proposed Coventry gigafactory

 “David Bailey, a professor of business economics at the Birmingham Business School, an impressive analyst on this subject, has concluded that a viable EV manufacturing capacity in this country require the construction of 8 gigafactories” says Thornett.

“Any viable EV production capacity, moreover, must be based on locally manufactured batteries, since the weight of an EV battery makes long supply chains unacceptable from either an economic or an environmental perspective. In fact, the location of the battery manufacture today determines the location of the assembly plants rather than the other way around. It is not impossible to produce EVs without locally sourced batteries but it is second best and probably temporary.” [1]

Building a gigafactory at Coventry is vital for the WM auto industry, it is a key demand of the WMCA’s Plan for Growth, but as yet there is no sign of funding.

This information needs to be shared in the labour movement

Workers, their families and their communities need this information. They need to know about what is happening and what the responses are from the unions and other labour movement and community organisations. Information and analysis needs to be regularly made public and shared on the Midlands TUC and Birmingham Trades Council websites.

RH 27 April 2023

  1. Alan Thornett, ‘The Britishvolt gigigafactory collapse’, February 4, 2023.
  1. Amir Qamar, Simon Collinson and Anne Green, ‘Covid-19 disruption, resilience and industrial policy: the automotive sector in the West Midlands’. Received 19 Mar 2021. Published online 26 Oct 2022 in Regional Studies. .

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“The big question for Birmingham is more equitable distribution of how power is concentrated”

‘The Beauty Queen Riots’ is a programme about the riots in Lozells in 2005. It’s now on the BBC Radio 4 website, in the ‘Seriously’ list, in 5 15 minute episodes. It was a conflict between members of the African Caribbean and South Asian communities, sparked by a rumoured rape of a 14 year old girl, but fuelled by years of poverty and lack of funding, of racial discrimination and police harassment. Two people died.

The programmes, based on the voices of community members, are well worth listening to. There are many issues involved in the dispute, including positive ones about its resolution.

Since then have economic prospects in Lozells, and inner city areas generally, improved? In the first round of the Government’s new Levelling Up agenda in October 2021 went to the West Midlands, but none of it went to Lozells or Handsworth or the Perry Barr constituency. In the second round in January 2023 £155 million went to the West Midlands, but Birmingham got none of it. Money did come in from the Commonwealth Games, and in the radio programme Ian Ward, the Council Leader, says he sees “the years between the Games and HS2 as a decade of golden opportunity”. But a speaker from the South Asian heritage community says the priority is democratic participation in the policy process:

“Money is important but more important is bringing people from disenfranchised communities into the heart of decision-making. What’s important, alongside more funding, is a significant shake-up in the political representation, in the way political power is distributed. We really need to have a proper recognition of people who don’t feel they have a place in formal politics. If you look at the levels of voting, how voting numbers are declining, people’s confidence and trust in formal politics is declining. I think the big question for Birmingham is more equitable distribution of how power is concentrated; which communities and which individuals are at the helm of making decisions about the distribution of resources.”

Increasingly people want a say, they want their voices to be heard and their concerns acted on

The question of citizen participation, or lack of, in the Council’s policy process, across the whole range of issues that the Council deals with, is a fundamental concern about how Birmingham is run.

In recent years Birmingham City Council has developed various initiatives around public consultation. The issue that has generated the most concern by the Council for public engagement is the climate emergency, because it can’t be tackled without it. Citizen participation is crucial. The Council declared  a Climate Emergency in June 2019, and launched a Climate Emergency Task Force with regular meetings. This had some positive governance features, such as the inclusion of representatives of campaign organisations XR and CANWM, but little impact on the actual governance of the Council’s climate policy. Issue-based workshops began but were abandoned because of Covid and not re-started. In 2022 the Task Force was replaced by ‘Community Assemblies’ meetings every 3 months, but public involvement and influence has been minimal.

Over the last few years the Council has been developing its Localism strategy ‘Working Together in Birmingham’s Neighbourhoods’, but has avoided integrating the Climate campaign issues into it. An indication of the absence of a strategy for city-wide community engagement was the Council’s rejection of the proposal by CANWM last year for the existing structure of regular Ward Forums to be used to explain the Climate Emergency and invite citizen involvement.

“The old format of events was not creating a space for meaningful involvement”

A few months ago the Council appointed Ellie Horwich-Smith as Assistant Director of Route to Zero. She has started publishing the ‘Bolder Greener Bulletin’, and the March 2023 issue has a section on ‘Net Zero Engagement Update – Post-it notes from a workshop on engagement’. It admits that it’s clear from the responses to the survey on the Community Assembly meetings last year that “the old format of events was not creating a space for meaningful involvement”.

“Since then, we have shared this feedback with cabinet members and officers at the council, run workshops on public engagement, spoken to other councils about their engagement programmes, and explored a range of different ideas. We want to make sure that the public are at the heart of our work, and to achieve this, public involvement in policy making needs to be genuinely meaningful and purpose driven, whilst also engaging diverse parts of the population. With this in mind, we are working on a Net Zero Engagement Strategy and progressing some proposals to political representatives. We plan to make this strategy open to all and will soon be inviting you to participate in its production.”

We will see if this results in a step-change to genuine and effective empowerment of citizen participation in the Council’s climate policy, and in every other key policy area too.

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Say no to the forced academisation of all Birmingham’s Catholic schools

Over recent years we have seen many Birmingham schools leave the local authority and become Academies. The majority of Birmingham’s primary schools are ‘maintained’ schools which have remained as part of the local education authority, part of the Council. But 48 of Birmingham’s 79 secondary state schools are now academies, with no formal connection with the elected local Council.

Academies are often run by ‘Academy Trusts’ – organisations with little involvement by parents and staff at school level. They are another example of creeping ‘depoliticisation’ – the gradual erosion of the role of elected democracy in public life, exemplified by the creation of the West Midlands Combined Authority. Now it is spreading to Catholic schools in Birmingham and the local area.

Love Brum Schools is a group of parents who have children at Birmingham’s Catholic Schools. It also includes staff who work in them. They are campaigning against the attempt by the Catholic Archdiocese, led by Archbishop Bernard Langley, to pressure its local schools in Birmingham to change their status to become Multi Academy Trusts and to be amalgamated into one overarching Catholic ‘Multi Academy Company’.

Love Brum Schools wants to protect Catholic schools the way they are, led by independent head teachers supported by democratically organised governing bodies with strong links to the local community.

Conversion to academy status is of course a politically motivated project promoted by the Tory government, who have no interest in protecting and nourishing local democracy and decision making. The anti-democratic nature of imposed academisation is illustrated by the way in which the Archdiocese has sought to bring it about. There have been no discussions with staff or parents about academisation yet detailed plans have been made and attempts have been made to implement them.

Supporters of academies like to claim that converting schools into academies raises standards. There is no evidence to support this claim – although plenty of evidence of the damage it can do through a weakening of democracy and accountability, through financial mismanagement, and even through direct and indirect corruption.

For the evidence about academies see the recent special issue of the education journal FORUM Volume 64 (2022) Issue 3: A fully trust-led system? It includes two open access articles:

Editorial by Patrick Yarker,

The Schools White Paper (2022) and ‘regimes of truth’ by Hilary Povey and James Whiting,

Also see Warwick Mansell’s website Education Uncovered. “We aim to put under the microscope the endless waves of reform which have hit England’s schools in recent years. We will seek to hold policymakers and those with power to account for goings-on at ground level, as we dig around in the undergrowth of schools reform.”

You can contact Love Brum Schools at

Richard Hatcher

19 April 2023

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