Cllr Meirion Jenkins is the Shadow Cabinet Member for Finance and Resources on Birmingham City Council.
In less than four months, Birmingham will see all-out elections to elect the city’s council for the next four years. The Conservative Group are mounting a full-blooded campaign to win control of the city. We will bring forth a vision for a quite different type of Birmingham, where the views of residents count for something and where the administration recognises that its purpose is to serve residents and not its own bloated infrastructure.
I can hardly keep up with the range of new senior posts that the current Labour administration are creating, piling cost upon cost for hard pressed residents. One might think that at least one consequence of these extra management positions would be a better service to residents. Not so, I’m afraid. In the council’s own survey, 92 per cent of respondents said that the council provides a poor service; complaints against the council have increased by 50 per cent over the last three years. Most topics that residents raise with me concern what we might describe as the basics of council life – waste collection, road and footpath maintenance, potholes etc. Not glamorous issues. But Labour’s decade long failure to get these basics right is an enduring frustration to residents. For example, the waste collection budget has increased by 50 per cent over the last ten years but the service (and thanks to the long-suffering residents who keep reporting missed collections) we know has got worse.
Covid of course now provides an excellent excuse for Labour’s ongoing failure on waste management, even though this has been an issue since I became a councillor about a decade ago. From January 2017 to November 2021 there have been over 500,000 missed bin collections in Birmingham and now, once again, we see large piles of rubbish building up around the city. ‘Staggering’ criticism as some people face four-week waits for bin collections in Birmingham – Birmingham Live (birminghammail.co.uk). Labour’s recycling rates are also very poor at 22.5 per cent – half the national average. Only Tower Hamlets and Newham have worse recycling rates. This leads to more rubbish being burned and makes a mockery of Labour’s clean air agenda.
Matters are aggravated by the very poor interactions that Birmingham Labour offers when people do complain. Automated meaningless responses so often fail to address the original cause of the complaint. Many of the emails I receive from residents are not about the originating complaint, but Labour’s inability to provide a substantive response. Residents tell me that they feel that nobody in the Council cares. Perhaps Labour’s inability to manage contact points is part of the problem; there are 265 attached websites, 200 contact numbers, 151 email addresses and 131 postal addresses! The Labour leadership is far too concerned with the high profile, glamorous city centre projects rather than ensuring that every community benefits from investment. Moreover, whilst we could support certain of the city centre projects, when we do embark on large projects, we must deliver within budget. For example, the Paradise Circus redevelopment was budgeted at £50 million but cost £100m. Above all though, the council must get the basics right first.
So, can we do it; can we win control of the UK’s second city? Well, if the two by-elections that took place in May 2021 are anything to go by, then quite possibly. In Oscott Ward, we achieved a 17.9 per cent swing and, in Quinton Ward, we achieved a 4.7 per cent swing. Both these wards are traditional working class parts of Birmingham, rather similar to the red wall seats that we took across the north at the General Election. If these results were translated city-wide, then an Oscott type result would produce approximately 20+ Conservative seats and Quinton another 10. A city wide Oscott type swing would, at the very least, be expected to eliminate Labour’s majority.
Some of the Labour seats we need to win, with the 2018 margin of Labour victory shown in brackets, are Longbridge (15), Pype Hayes (17), Sutton Vesey second councillor (105), Kings Norton (125) Weoley & Selly Oak (202) and Quinton second councillor (126). Single member wards, of which there are 37 have about 8,000 voters and dual member wards, of which there are 32, have about 16,000 voters. Therefore, it’s easy to see just how small these margins of victory are. Some might wonder about the negative movement we have experienced recently in national polling and the Shropshire by-election. However, in 2018, despite a five per cent swing against us nationally, we achieved a six per cent increase in our vote share. This demonstrates that Birmingham politics, with a Labour incumbent, is not a direct reflection of national trends. With a strong Birmingham based campaign (and we will soon be issuing our Manifesto which has a great deal to offer), we can better our 2018 result.
The last time we had a Conservative-run administration in Birmingham was in 2012; it was a coalition with the Lib Dems. There are 101 councillors, currently being Conservatives 27, Green Party one, Labour 64 and Liberal Democrats eight, with one vacancy.
Without a doubt, Labour’s unfair and undemocratic travel tax (aka clean air zone) is very unpopular with many residents – particularly those in poorer areas around the ring road who are suffering extra pollution due to traffic being shifted into their wards. Labour’s dogma and obsession with anti-car policies means they will retain this policy through to the election in the face of strong local opposition. Even Khalid Mahmood, the Labour MP for Perry Barr, has slammed the policy. On Politics Midlands he said of the travel tax:
“This is just a completely bonkers idea by officials that sit behind desks and pass these through, and my colleagues and councillors should have a much better idea of the people they represent and what the issues are.”
He also said that, in his opinion, the effect of the scheme would be to increase emissions. Our commitment to reverse this tax is likely to be very popular with voters – especially in those areas close to the ring road that may not be traditionally Conservative.