Neoliberalism imposes a policy framework on local councils which has two components:
‘roll-back’ and ‘roll-out’. Roll-back neoliberalism comprises reductions in the role and powers of local councils, most obviously through massive cuts in grants to urban authorities, but also through legislative restrictions (e.g. Gove’s requirement that all new schools had to be academies or free schools, not LA schools). Roll-out neoliberalism is the putting in place of a new transformed model of local government. Driving this is the function of the Kerslake Review, because for government the transformation in Birmingham is not going far enough or fast enough.
For Kerslake a model that Birmingham should emulate is Leeds. The Review makes favourable reference four times to Leeds. This is one:
‘Other local authorities, such as Leeds (see ‘Example Strategic Planning Framework’ box p.35), have used their civic leadership role to develop a shared narrative and priorities for their city’s future. They have used this to help agree shared strategic objectives across the city and to form the partnerships that are needed to deliver them.’ (p36. Also pp16, 39, 48.)
Eric Pickles has just announced the Improvement Panel put in place to ensure BCC implements the Kerslake Review. It comprises four people, one of whom is Keith Wakefield, leader of Leeds city council.
We think that Birmingham has something to learn from Leeds in terms of citizen participation. Leeds is a long way from the sort of participatory democracy that we want, but for Birmingham it would represent a step in the right direction, because Leeds’ equivalent of District Committees does not comprise only councillors. It also includes co-opted members who are elected representatives of its equivalent of Ward Committees. This is what BATC has been arguing for for Birmingham.
Birmingham’s Scrutiny Inquiry into ‘The Role of Councillors on District Committees’
As part of the ongoing debate about the future shape of local government in Birmingham the Districts and Public Engagement O&S Committee has been holding a Scrutiny Inquiry into ‘The Role of Councillors on District Committees’. It has held Evidence Gathering Sessions into Housing (18 November) and Community Libraries and Youth Service (9 December), and a visit to the Erdington District (2 December). In January 2015 it published an Evidence pack.
The Inquiry contains two models of what are obviously regarded by the Committee as models for the way forward. One is the active role of the Erdington District Committee. The other is the model of devolved local government in Leeds. Its significance is indicated by the fact that documents from Leeds City Council take up 23 pages of the 94 page report.