Brummie residents took to the polls on 3rd May 2018 for the Birmingham City Council elections. With it came sweeping changes to the layout of Europe’s biggest local authority – implementing boundary changes that reduced the number of seats from 120 to 101 and shifting to all-out elections.
This democratic overhaul was a consequence of the 2014 independent review into the performance of Birmingham City Council, headed up by Communities & Local Government civil servant, Sir Bob Kerslake. The report concluded that successive administrations had failed to make decisions to rise to the city’s challenges and provide the residents of Birmingham with the services they deserve. A longer electoral cycle of four years was recommended to encourage a better focus on the Council’s long-term vision alongside boundary changes that reduced the number of councillors.
Changing from 40 three-member wards, the new layout of the local authority comprises 69 wards with a mixture of one and two-members, the smaller wards would in theory be more representative of the local communities that comprise Birmingham and encourage a higher rate of participation.
Birmingham City Council succeeded in its target of maintaining or increasing its turnout of 31.85% from the last 2016 election, seeing 32.06% of the electorate show up to the polls this year.
Despite the hopes of the opposition parties to exploit the Labour administration’s slow tackling of the 2017 refuse collection strikes, the actual political composition has largely remained the same. With changes in numbers of wards and councillors, it is more effective to examine each parties proportion – where the share of seats has barely changed.
Keeping with the electoral trends of the past decade, Sutton Coldfield remained largely Conservative, alongside Edgbaston and Brierley Green. Further blue wards were established in the south west of the region, though adding little to the Conservative’s overall share of seats. The most significant outcome was in Druid’s Heath and Monyhull ward, where constituents elected the Council’s only Green Party representative, Julien Pritchard.
With Labour’s hold on a two-thirds majority confirmed, many expected drama from the leadership election for the Labour Group and Council Leader. After all, the Leader of the Council would stand for the next four years, unlike in the previous system where bitter leadership contests were fought almost every year.
To many an insider’s surprise, incumbent Councillor Ian Ward was re-elected unopposed, with Councillor Brigid Jones continuing in her role as deputy leader. Ward’s performance since his initial election as leader in September 2017 has been positively received, presiding over the city’s successful bid for the 2022 Commonwealth Games and the de-escalation and resolution the refuse collection strike that cost the previous leader, John Clancy, his job.
Councillor Ward set about appointing his new cabinet shortly after, with emphasis on diversity and inclusion. Breaking away from the bin strikes of summer 2017, the portfolio role responsible for refuse services has been renamed to “Clean Streets, Waste & Recycling”, with highly criticised Lisa Trickett replaced by Majid Mahmood. The “Jobs & Skills” portfolio has been removed due to the responsibility now sitting with the West Midlands Mayor, Andy Street.
Last week, Councillor Mike Sharpe resigned as Chair of the Planning Committee after six years in the role. With his successor yet to be announced, those of us in the built environment sector keep a close watch in the hope that the new Chair will bolster the incredible transformation that Birmingham is on the cusp of offering.
So what now?
With the political leadership and composition of the Council set in place for the next four years, Birmingham City Council should now have the stability and focus to tackle the broader challenges highlighted in the Kerslake report. The real test of Ian Ward’s leadership will come with balancing the local authority’s budget as well as keeping ‘clean streets’ a central part of the administration’s agenda.
The delivery of the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, as well as increased housebuilding with the help of the West Midlands Combined Authority budget, should draw positive press in the coming months and years. With significant infrastructure improvements required around Perry Barr for the Games, as well as continued investment in the region accelerated by High Speed Two, Birmingham City Council has an abundance of opportunities for the taking.
To help you navigate your way through the political changes in Birmingham City Council, we have produced a political map. Click here to download a PDF copy or request a hard copy poster.