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Cllr Meirion Jenkins is the Shadow Cabinet Member for Finance and Resources on Birmingham City Council.

The battle is well and truly joined for the UK’s second city and largest metropolitan authority in Europe. Birmingham starts with much stronger Conservative representation than any other core city and therefore the best possibility of the Conservatives taking control. We last ran Birmingham up to 2012 in conjunction with the Lib Dems. We need all the help we can get though; anyone willing to help can contact me directly on 07792 731556 or via Twitter and I’ll connect you with one of our many campaigning sessions.

Our campaign and manifesto, which launched this week, has three central themes: clean up the city; fix the roads; and protect green spaces. We will do this whilst keeping council tax low, because the point of being a Conservative is to reduce tax and let people keep and spend their own money, which they will always do far more efficiently than the state.

When campaigning in 2012, Labour promised not to increase council tax. After 10 years of a disastrous Labour administration, we have seen council tax increase by 39 per cent with another maximum increase (without a referendum) this year. I have been an opposition councillor throughout this time and observed a litany of financial and project management failures, many laughable were it not for the abject waste of public money they involve.

Our alternative budget this year would have frozen council tax as opposed to Labour’s maximum increase of 2.99 per cent. Even with this increase, Labour is still not able to present a balanced budget at the time of the election and we believe that, without a change in policy, they will need a further 31 per cent increase to balance the books. We will pledge to increase the number of higher band properties, thereby increasing the council tax collection without the need to increase rates associated with each band. We will bring top quality properties to the city centre, the type of private properties that residents will clamour to purchase. The quality of these properties would not be out of place in Belgravia or 5th Avenue.

Then there are the officer payoffs, with one secret compromise agreement after another and the revolving door of senior officer appointments. With secrecy built into Labour’s DNA, even committees charged with risk scrutiny, such as audit, are denied access to relevant information, notwithstanding that full council even passed a motion saying that there should be no areas off limits to audit committee, which the Labour administration has simply ignored. We even have, and I assure this is true, the Labour chief whip as the chair of audit committee; a hopelessly conflicted position. If elected, we will follow government guidance and bring all payoffs in excess of £100,000 to full council. This way, councillors will take responsibility and be accountable to their electorate.

The Conservative Group on Birmingham City Council is offering a manifesto with a broad range of measures that we know have widespread support amongst the citizenry of Birmingham. First and foremost, we will reverse the disastrous travel tax which charges motorists to drive into the city. This tax has even been opposed by a local Labour MP and of course many local businesses and workers who have no choice but to drive into the city for work. It is especially unpopular with night time workers, who can find themselves having to pay twice if their shift crosses over midnight! In the ultimate example of ‘wooden dollars’, even the Labour administration must charge itself when its non-compliant waste vehicles cross into the zone. The Conservatives have presented proposals to achieve the city’s clean air targets without this damaging tax on hardworking motorists. Our innovative ideas include the introduction of clean air filters at bus stops. Low traffic neighbourhoods and Labour’s crazy plan to close the A38 tunnels will also be scrapped. In order to boost local centres, we will provide free car parking in council owned car parks. We will build new car parks at hospitals so that people can visit their loved ones without having to worry about parking charges – besides, it’s not like they don’t pay enough already for the NHS. We will reverse Labour’s policy of restricting or entirely blocking parking provision with new developments.

Labour fails Birmingham on the basic functions people expect of a council. Waste collection is highly variable, often with whole streets missed for several weeks. There have been more than 500,000 missed bin collections since 2017, although the farcical way Labour measures this means that this figure does not include cases where whole roads, or even whole routes, have been missed but only where an individual resident has reported a missed collection for their one household. It’s no wonder my inbox is populated with complaints every week. If elected, we will seek to redesign the whole service. However, to provide a quick fix for the worst problems, we will instigate automatic reporting where whole roads have been missed and local neighbourhood clean-up crews as a flying squad to deal with waste collection failures.

Our second main theme, and another basic function of the council is fixing potholes. Birmingham gets paid a £1m a week by the government to maintain our roads but the roads of Birmingham are in a dreadful state. The Birmingham roads contract was working fairly well for its first two years when the Tories ran the council. But for the last ten years Labour has made a right mess of the contract, with endless disputes and a court case against the original contractor Amey. If elected, we will return sound management to this contract.

We will establish a business support desk. This will be a dedicated ‘hot line’ to the Leader’s office, co-ordinating assistance for businesses expanding or investing for the first time in Birmingham. In the past, investment has gone elsewhere when the city failed to properly support and respond to requests for assistance from potential investors.

Schools across Birmingham are mixed. There are some very good schools but the best have a distorting effect on property prices and other things as parents desperately try to acquire property within certain catchment areas. We will address this by encouraging applications to set up new free schools, particularly in areas that are currently poorly served. In order to receive a council house in Birmingham, residents will need to satisfy our 5-year residency rule, thereby mandating a local connection.

We will support the government’s initiative to provide face to face GP visits for those that need them. GP by Zoom undoubtedly works for many, and that’s fine, but nothing is ever going to be a substitute for a face-to-face consultation when needed.

Protection of green space is the third main theme of our manifesto. Labour has shown a disregard for green space; under their leadership 50 hectares of green infrastructure have been lost, the equivalent of 93 football pitches. We will adopt a brownfield-first building policy and stop their plans for destroying the city’s valuable park land. One of the most egregious examples and a narrow escape, was that of Dugdale Crescent in my own ward. Labour sought to build houses on a village green. Named after Sir William Dugdale, who fought at Edge Hill in 1642, it really is hard to think of a less appropriate place to build. A magnificent effort by the residents over three plus years saw the land designated as a village green in March this year when I supported the residents at a meeting of the Licensing Committee which unanimously granted the application. This protects against future development.

Once again, we need all the help we can get. Anyone willing to help can contact me directly on 07792 731556 and I’ll connect you with one of our many campaigning sessions.