I’m voting yes to a mayor because Birmingham needs a shake up


Yes, I am a Labour MP. I want to see Labour take control of Birmingham Council on Thursday. I reckon Albert Bore and his team could do a much better job than the Conservative/Lib-Dem coalition which has been in charge for the last eight years.

But Birmingham does not only need a shake up of who runs the City. We also need a much more fundamental shake up in how it is run. That’s one of the reasons I will be voting ‘Yes’ to an elected Mayor on May 3rd.

As a City, we don’t punch our weight nearly effectively enough on the national stage. The current City Council leadership seems to think that crass self congratulation is the same thing as being effective. It’s something that does nothing for Birmingham’s reputation in the wider West Midlands or nationally. But the problem goes deeper than the vanity of Mike Whitby [current council leader]. The entire culture of the City Council is a problem too. All too often, it gets itself so immersed in the detail of its own operation that it does not know how to build up the partnerships our City as a whole needs to ensure Birmingham’s voice is heard loud and clear both nationally and internationally. And that’s what a Mayor elected by the people of Birmingham could be – a voice for our City, not just of the City Council.

A Mayor could also be a force for good in local people’s relationship to what happens in our City. I know from years of experience in my own Northfield constituency that many local people experience Birmingham City Council as a suffocating bureaucracy. Its departments operate in silos that can’t seem to see the wood for the trees on things that matter. Services are often unresponsive to local needs. And if a local initiative occasionally does show a spark of creativity in one part of Birmingham or another, all too often it is snuffed out by City Council procedures that can’t cope with different ways of doing things. It’s never been good enough and, if we don’t change how we work as a City, it will get even worse with the massive cuts now being imposed on us by central government.

But electing a Mayor should not be about simply concentrating power to decide everything in one individual. That’s not democracy and it wouldn’t work. One of Birmingham City Council’s problems is that it is already too centralised. So an elected mayor will need strong accountability mechanisms for the leadership he or she will provide on strategic issues like transport, jobs and investment. We shouldn’t wait for Government to hand those accountability mechanisms down to us. We should develop them for ourselves.

As for services where priorities could be decided much more locally, they should be. The Council needs to “let go” and allow local people a much bigger say. The devolution proposals in this year’s Labour manifesto for Birmingham are a start. An elected Mayor could play a big role in driving the process of devolution further forward. But it will also be up to all of us to make sure it happens.

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Richard Burden

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I was Labour Member of Parliament for Birmingham Northfield between 1992 and 2019 and a former Shadow Transport Minister. I now chair Healthwatch in Birmingham and Solihull, and the West Midlands Board of Remembering Srebrenica. I also work as a public affairs consultant. I am an effective community advocate and stakeholder alliance builder with a passion for human rights. I am a trustee of the Balfour Project charity and of Citizens Advice Birmingham, and a former Chair of Medical Aid for Palestinians.

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You can reach me by email at richard@richardburden.com or use the form on the Contact page to send me a message.