Cllr Robert Alden is Leader of the Conservative Group on Birmingham City Council.
It is great to once again welcome the Conservative party conference to Birmingham. Delegates will notice major building works continuing apace across the City. The West Midlands tops the UK regional table for both foreign investment and homegrown start-ups.
Our rich industrial heritage and role in the birth of the industrial revolution shaped our great City. Our role in the forefront of the new industrial revolution for the businesses of tomorrow, particularly around battery technology and electric vehicles, will shape Birmingham for future generations.
Last year was the tourism sector’s most successful year ever in Birmingham, with 42 million visitors spending £7 billion, a seven per cent increase on the year before. All of this backed by significant Government investment in our City and region through the Midlands Engine, Local Growth Funding, and devolution deals.
With Andy Street as our Mayor the West Midlands Met region is once again cashing in on our potential. The Party also arrives to find Birmingham Conservatives in a good position as well.
This year’s all out elections in Birmingham were meant to be the year the Conservatives were wiped out in Birmingham sending our great city the same way as many northern major centres or parts of London – a Conservative free zone. How do we know this was meant to be the case? Labour councillors and candidates kept saying in meetings and on Twitter that they would wipe the party out.
Readers of Conservative Home will know that we in Birmingham took a different view and knew that we could grow the party support and, despite being in the eighth year of a Conservative led Government, more than hold our own.
The results in Birmingham were good, we added over 15,000 votes to the Conservative vote compared to 2016 and over 12,000 compared to 2014, we slightly increased our share of the Council, now standing at 25 Councillors. Overall our vote went up by just under 30 per cent in this year’s local elections, in a context of total number of people voting going up nine per cent.
Clearly Labour didn’t even come close to wiping out the Conservative Party in Birmingham; instead some of our candidates made brilliant gains from Labour including in Castle Vale (a ward covering this area was last won by the Conservatives in 1978), Hall Green South (last won in 2002), Frankley and Highters Heath Wards (last won in 2008). For the first time ever there are now no Labour Councillors in Kingstanding (they are all Conservative), a ward once known as the largest Council Estate in Europe.
For the first time since the 1970s Conservatives have the majority of the Councillors in Erdington Constituency and came within 16 votes of a further gain in that part of Birmingham.
While Labour’s majority across the chamber seems relatively large still, the reality is that it masks the huge number of close results. Out of an electorate of over 730,000 voters, Labour kept control of Birmingham City Council by just 4995 votes split across 18 wards. This means we are well placed at the next elections to be able to take control with the right kind of support.
As a Conservative Group we will be working to support residents over the coming four years and continue to campaign to help make our great City even better.
Politically next year the group will be supporting neighbouring Conservative Groups that have Council elections and in 2020 (and before) we will of course be actively campaigning for the re-election of West Midlands Mayor, Andy Street, including campaigning over conference weekend, as we look to continue the momentum building for the Conservatives across the West Midlands in the years ahead.
As for Birmingham, while the City looks forward, the Council is stuck in the past. A re-elected Labour administration has been warned by the Birmingham Independent Improvement Panel that they are in the last chance saloon, one last chance to fix the mess that they have made of the Council’s finances. A second Section 24 notice from the Council auditors reiterates the point they made to Labour at the audit committee last year ‘The budget comprises two things – getting it right and delivering it and I think last year you got neither right’. While on the policy front the Labour Council – despite making no reference to it during the election – has now announced plans to charge private cars to drive into Birmingham City Centre.
In 2016/17 Labour failed to deliver 69 per cent of their savings programme and in 2017/18 they failed to deliver 27 per cent of the savings programme. At the month three monitoring report this year, 13 per cent of the planned savings had been abandoned as non-deliverable and only 58 per cent of savings were on track to be fully delivered.
Labour is yet to tell residents how they will balance the books. In February 2018, Labour put forward a pre-election budget and, in our view, this was not a robust budget. They also failed to explain the planned charges to drive into the city centre which are so unpopular with residents and businesses in Birmingham. The pre-election budget avoided many key questions by using £30m of reserves and other ploys such as the 2% non-specific ‘efficiency savings’ from each directorate, which, unsurprisingly, monitoring reports show aren’t being met, leaving the Council in a precarious financial position.
The election may be over, but the fight to deliver better quality services, cleaner streets and lower taxes for residents of Birmingham from a failing Labour Council continues.
From Birmingham Conservatives we hope you have a wonderful conference and enjoy your stay in our great City.