Motion to Take Note
My Lords, I am very glad to debate the City of Birmingham (Scheme of Elections) Order 2015 and glad to see that we have such a full House still for this important debate.
This order imposes on our second city a new scheme of elections that commence in 2017. It also changes Birmingham’s current practice of retirement by thirds and moves to all-out elections. Noble Lords need to be aware that last week the Government laid a new order that actually amends the order we are debating this evening by changing the date of the first all-out elections from 2017 to 2018. That order has not been through the scrutiny committee and other scrutiny processes and, no doubt, there will be a report to your Lordships’ House, I believe after the next meeting of the scrutiny committee next Tuesday.
I want to raise some issues about the change to all-out elections but I want to set out the context. I have lived in Birmingham for nearly 40 years. It is a wonderful city—very vibrant and friendly—but it faces a number of real challenges at the moment. Its economy has underperformed compared with London, Manchester, Liverpool and Sheffield over many years now. Parts of Birmingham are among the most deprived in the country. In fact, we have more poor children in Birmingham than in any other part of the country and many of our adults are locked in a spiral where they have low skills and cannot take advantage of some of the new jobs that are being created in the city.
Birmingham has a great history, great strengths and potentially a great future but a lot of that depends on the city council and the quality of leadership it provides. At the moment, it is fair to say that it is being held back by a number of very significant problems. Its children’s services have been rated inadequate or worse for a number of years now. The Trojan horse incident raised a lot of serious issues about the education service in general and about the city council’s engagement and understanding of its local communities. Its financial position, following the equal pay debacle, can be described at best only as horrendous.
The city council is subject to a number of interventions. My noble friend Lord Warner is a commissioner appointed by the Secretary of State for Education looking particularly into children’s services. Sir Mike Tomlinson has been appointed in the wake of the Trojan horse issue and Sir Bob Kerslake, the former Permanent Secretary at the Department for Communities and Local Government, has undertaken an independent review of the governance and organisational capabilities of the city council. That is what I want to focus on. Let me say at once that I believe Sir Bob has undertaken an enormous task. I am very grateful to him for it. His report is well written and many of its conclusions are absolutely right. However, there are some issues I want to raise, particularly in relation to this order.
Where I think Sir Bob is absolutely right is that he says, essentially, that for Birmingham to achieve its full potential and deal with some of the problems I have mentioned, the city council has to rethink its role and the way it does its business. In a telling phrase in the report Sir Bob says it has to end the,
“not invented here, silo-based and council knows best culture”.
Leadership of the council has changed hands between the three political parties over the past few years. I was a member of the city council a long time ago, but I recognise that criticism. Of all the changes Birmingham needs to make, that is probably the one that I would focus on.
Sir Bob goes on to talk about the governance of the city council. In particular, he says that the council needs to clarify roles, responsibilities, behaviours and ways of working expected in relation to the leader, the cabinet, councillors, chief executive and officers. I agree with that too. I agree that the city council should draw up a robust plan on managing the financial challenges it faces. I certainly agree that it needs to establish a new model of devolution and partnership with key stakeholders. As a former chairman of an NHS foundation trust in Birmingham, I am struck by the inability of the city council to forge strong relationships with other key players in the sector. That is an issue that goes across leadership between two different administrations. I certainly support the recommendation that there should be a combined authority—what I would call greater Birmingham—covering Birmingham, Dudley, Sandwell, Walsall, Wolverhampton and Solihull, rather in the way that Manchester has been developed, in order to deal with some of those cross-local authority strategic issues.
I want to have a debate, because it is important that this is debated, on the proposal about the scheme of elections and the move to all-out elections. Sir Bob says:
“Birmingham City Council is an outlier on the size of the council and the size of its wards. It has 15 of the 20 wards with the largest population in the country”.
Because Birmingham is forecast to have a big growth in population over the coming years, those wards are likely to become even bigger. There are already 120 councillors but, speaking as a councillor in a three-member ward representing 22,000 electors, it is a very tough challenge for 120 councillors to represent effectively a population of 1 million. We are going up to 1,150,000, yet Sir Bob’s proposals are to reduce the number of councillors. For ward councillors, that is going to be a major challenge.
Sir Bob also says that we should move away from the traditional, current election by thirds to all-out elections. If you read the report, he clearly favours reducing the number of councillors and moving to single-member wards, rather than multimember wards, at the same time. I know opinions differ about the merits, or not, of all-out elections and elections by thirds. Essentially, it depends upon what you are used to. I spent time as a councillor in Oxford and I have lived in Leeds and Birmingham, so for me the natural order of things is election by thirds. Equally, I am sure that the Minister thinks all-out elections are the right thing to do because that is what he has experienced. It is a 50:50 argument. I know Sir Albert Bore, the leader of Birmingham City Council, favours the move to all-out elections because he thinks they will provide greater certainty of political control over a four-year period, allow confident medium-term financial and strategic planning for that four-year period and that the majority group will have a clear mandate for the whole of the period. Well, that is fair enough—I am not going to argue about that. I like the old tradition of election by thirds; it makes sure that the electorate have an opportunity to have a say on an annual basis. None the less, I very much accept what Albert has said. However, I worry about reducing the number of councillors. Even more worrying, for me, is the fact that the city council will be subjected to a boundary review. The chairman of the Local Government Boundary Commission has already been in the city and has issued a challenge to local councillors to say that, if they do not like the reduction in numbers, they must put up a convincing case against it.
The problem that I have is that, in the original Kerslake report, he identifies that this great city of Birmingham is facing mega-challenges in its leadership and partnership approach as well as in how it operates, the services it provides and the skills of its people. Yet we know that the moment the commission starts to do its work, in a situation in which it is proposed to reduce the number of councillors, the focus of most councillors’ attention will not be on these core issues of leading Birmingham out of the very difficult situation that it is in. It will be about responding to the boundary commission review and worrying about the new wards, and selection will then take place. Councillors’ focus will be on those really rather secondary issues rather than on the core issue of tackling the problems that Sir Bob addresses.
The reason I am raising the issue tonight is to ask the Minister to give this some consideration. After all, another order is coming down the line. The last thing that we need in Birmingham is the distraction of a wholesale boundary review, which will get rid of three-member wards—so it will be a mega-change. We need to focus on improving the services in the city of Birmingham. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support the order. I was born and raised in Birmingham, and my first and last jobs in manufacturing were in the city. I am old enough and my memory is still good enough to say that I can still recall my mother’s Birmingham co-op number. I served in the Commons as the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr, where I went to school and had my paper round, for 27 years. Although I no longer pay council tax in the city, I have just arrived at your Lordships' House from chairing the Neighbourhood Partnership Board at Castle Vale in the city. So I am now an outsider, but I have insider roots, insight and, indeed, support. However, my memory is also good enough to remember how the city was considered by others as a leader over five decades, over a variety of issues—an exemplar.
At the time when the noble Lord, Lord Nash, made the Statement in this House last year on 22 July, I did not get the confirmation—it was buried in the paragraphs—that the Kerslake review would not have any no-go areas. As such, in July, I put in my long-held views to Sir Bob about the governance of the city being split into separate boroughs. I copied my views to the city leadership at the same time—I have always been quite open on this point, which I raised in the 1980s and the 1990s. The city is too big. London does not suffer for being split into 32 boroughs, and Birmingham would not suffer for being split into two, three or four boroughs.
Sir Bob, who is soon to join your Lordships' House, has explained to me why his team went for what is in the order, and I accept that. I am not going to go over that tonight; it is not the time. His review makes it crystal clear that, if the city council fails to improve, questions of size will continue to be asked. Improvement is urgently required. As my noble friend just said, there are currently two government-imposed commissioners working in the city due to it failing—I do not like saying that, but that is the reality—in education and in children’s social services. The city has massive potential to return to being an exemplar for strong, good local government, as it was in the past and I want it to do so.
When I attended the Labour Party conference last year, I did not waste too much time in the conference hall, which is a waste of time. But I did not waste too much time: I went to every single fringe meeting dealing with urban affairs and city growth. I concentrated on that because I knew what would happen. The Kerslake review had been set up; it had been announced in July. Not once at any meeting I went to was the word “Birmingham” uttered as an example of what was being done as a beacon for others. It was always several other examples of cities in the country on various issues. The Birmingham leader knows this to be true because he sat alongside me for the whole of one of those meetings.
Usually when Manchester is mentioned, it turns out to be Greater Manchester that is being referred to. That is a misnomer, but the fact is that it is the 10 authorities working together—which has not been the case in the West Midlands. I remember being in Birmingham Council House with all the local authorities present years ago in 2004, when I was an ODPM Minister dealing with regeneration. I was the soft cop; my official was the hard cop. I uttered the phrase “Greater Birmingham”—I picked bits of the roof off my head later that day.
More recently, when I was chair of the Food Standards Agency I launched the food hygiene rating scheme in the north-west of England in Greater Manchester. Every single one of the 10 authorities was present in Trafford for the launch. In the Midlands I did a couple, separately, as did a couple of other board members. The idea of getting them to do it together was an absolute nonsense. The reality is that working together has not worked in the West Midlands, mainly because of the attitude of the biggest authority. It is the biggest by far. I will not go over the statistics; I put them in a paper to Sir Bob. There is more inequality of size among those councils than anywhere else.
So to the order. Like my noble friend, I have always supported annual local government elections, for a variety of reasons, some to do with governance and some party reasons. That has been the reality. These no longer apply in Birmingham. I think that change to all-out elections should be embraced—there is no doubt about it whatever.
Single-member wards will be new, but they should be grasped as a positive advantage. The Kerslake review makes it clear that it will be a better system, but there is a phrase in the review that concerns me. It talks about “mainly single-member wards”. The one thing that I would oppose is wards with different numbers of members. I know that this occurs around the country; I am always gobsmacked when I go to various local authorities and I find out there are one-member, two-member and three-member wards in the same authority. I cannot comprehend that. They should all be the same. I know that the Boundary Commission will deal with the details, but I hope that it has not got carte blanche. As far as I am concerned its job is to implement Kerslake, taking account of the practicalities at ground level. I hope that it does not mix the wards.
I think that the total number of wards should be an odd number—I have often wondered why it has generally been an even number. It is not a problem in Birmingham because there has been a written, almost legal agreement for about 40 years about the mayor. We got rid of all that nonsense about not taking the mayor if there is a split because you lose your majority. We have a sensible, written legal agreement between the three parties that has lasted since it was created, probably the best part of 30 or 40 years ago.
I would settle for 101 wards—or a maximum of 105. I do not think that it should be the same as the present number. I know that, looking at the arithmetic, there is a problem with that, but in my view it should be less than the present number. If there are going to be single-member wards, there is an opportunity for there to be very little variation—I would say plus or minus 4% as a maximum so that they are as near as possible the same size. At the moment, they are not; there are examples of massive disparity in the city because the last boundary review was a long time ago.
The population would be about 10,000. Funnily enough, the place that I have just come from, Castle Vale, has a population of exactly 10,000 and the electorate is about 6,500. It has its own postcode. The regeneration area that people have driven past along the M6 has been very successful. Thirty-two out of the 34 tower blocks have come down. Now, people queue up to live there rather than not wanting to be sent there, as was the case with my constituents and those of my late friend Lord Corbett.
I have one suggestion, which is that an attempt should be made—I am not sure by whom—to deal with what I think is the recurring theme throughout Kerslake. As I said, I am an outsider and I have not discussed this with any MPs, although in December I picked up vibrations among some of my friends on the council. They thought, “Oh, nothing’s going to happen with Kerslake until after May”. I told Mr Pickles in December that he had better get on with it because the view was that nothing was going to happen. This is a really serious issue and it should be dealt with urgently.
The recurring theme throughout Kerslake—it is recommended reading in relation to governance; it is not a massively long report—is the blurring of roles between councillors and officers. I was gobsmacked when I read the examples in the report. There is a complete lack of training opportunities for elected members. It seems to me crucial that councillors—a bit like Ministers, in a way—understand the difference between governance and management. It is fundamental that there is no blurring of the roles but, sadly, according to Kerslake, that seems to apply to some officers as well. That has grown up because of their culture. Kerslake says that the culture has to change, and that would be pretty radical. Although this is not my preferred solution, I think that the one that he has come up with is just as good in forcing a radical rethink and change: all-out elections and single-member wards. For councillors, it will be a completely new way of working.
The present culture is three-member wards, and changing will not be easy because not all wards are of the same political party. The idea that the councillors will divide the ward up among themselves is wrong; they will not. They will stand for election in the whole ward. In wards in my former constituency there was sometimes a lonely Labour councillor or a lonely Lib Dem councillor. They had the whole 20,000-odd electorate—the population was about 30,000—so the wards were quite large.
Therefore, single-member wards will be different. I do not think—no, I shall be positive about this rather than say, “I do not think”. I think that before anyone is allowed to be a candidate, they should have been on a governance training programme run by an independent body, such as a business school, a university or training specialists in government—but preferably not the Local Government Association, where there is too much of a vested interest.
The political parties really ought to embrace this. We are obviously not going to hear the views of the noble Lord, Lord Whitby, but I think that all the parties should embrace this. I am not seeking a qualification for anyone who stands for election, as that could be risky, but the public are entitled to know that those who are elected understand what their role is—and, more to the point, what it is not. That was the message that I took from Kerslake, and it explained to me why a lot of the negative issues for the city have arisen.
I am not going to go over any particular details, but when I saw how bad this blurring of the roles of governance and management was, I could think of examples where I thought, “Oh, that must be the reason why so and so happened”. This is a serious matter, in the largest local authority in the country. We know it has happened in others, because we have read about some recent examples, particularly in the north, but the fact is that it should not happen anywhere. There should be procedures to stop it happening, whether by the chief executive or other people in local government.
We have an opportunity here. There is the Boundary Commission and, of course, Birmingham currently has a council oversight board as a result of Sir Bob’s report, which is made up of the great and good. They all look very qualified people, they have not been sent up from London and they have experience of local government, at officer, chief executive and councillor level. I have faith in them, but they will have to look at the situation in 12 months’ time, when they will expect to see cultural change. One of the ways the parties could show that they are up for cultural change is by doing something about the most serious deficit that Kerslake identified, which is the blurring of the roles of councillors and officers. I support the order.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Hunt for the measured way in which he introduced his take-note Motion. I recognise his knowledge of and attachment to the City of Birmingham. I also thank my noble friend Lord Rooker for his contribution.
We on the Front Bench support the order as it stands. My noble friend Lord Rooker raised some fascinating issues—the same ones that Kerslake raised—about how Birmingham City Council used to be a leader and has lost its way. My noble friend Lord Hunt recognised that as well. The issue of the city being too big was touched on in the report but the conclusion was not to change those matters, certainly for the time being. My noble friends had a different emphasis, as I shall put it, on whether an election by thirds or an all-in, all-out election is the most appropriate. I am bound to say that we on Luton Council changed to an all-in, all-out system in 1976. We supported it then and have supported it since, even though, politically, we have always caught the bad years and ended up in opposition. Thankfully, that has changed, but it is a consequence: you cannot have all the benefits of it.
As for wards which have a different number of members, again in Luton we have two-member wards and three-member wards. Frankly, it works perfectly well and I do not know what the problem is with having that system. My noble friends Lord Rooker and Lord Hunt focused on this issue of the blurring of roles between councillors and officers, which we accept is a significant issue. I suspect it may have got worse for those councils that have an executive-type arrangement, which I think lends itself more naturally to that blurring. It is important to guard against that.
The instrument before us today moves away from councillor elections for Birmingham City Council being in thirds to all-out elections every four years. This was to commence in 2017 but, as my noble friend Lord Hunt pointed out, it has been put back one year. I join with my noble friend in seeking a proper explanation of that change. There is speculation that it was a recognition of the complexity associated with the reorganisation of the council and that longer would need to be provided for the Boundary Commission changes to be put in place. Perhaps the Minister can use this opportunity to clarify matters.
The proposed change came about of course as a consequence of the Kerslake review, which we have heard about. Sir Bob Kerslake was asked last year to lead a review of the governance and organisational capabilities of the city council. The review was conducted on the principles of an LGA peer challenge model and looked at five factors critical to council performance and improvement. These were: effective political and managerial leadership working in partnership; an understanding of the local context and a shared long-term vision for the future, with a clear set of priorities; effective governance and decision-making arrangements that respond to challenges and manage change, transformation and disinvestment; organisational capacity and resources focused in the right areas in order to deliver the agreed priorities, including a workforce that understands the priorities and supports their delivery; and a financial plan in place to ensure long-term viability.
The Kerslake report was clear in recognising the strengths and potential of Birmingham to be an economic powerhouse alongside London, but it was also clear that for the city to succeed Birmingham City Council had to change. The report listed a raft of areas where there is the need for change. I will highlight just a few of them. It said:
“The council must act now to address its significant challenges. Like all local authorities, it must rethink its role and the way it does business with its partners and those it serves, including its relationship with the city’s residents. But there are some issues that are particular to Birmingham City Council. Some of its services are not good enough, such as children’s services”—
which we have heard about—
“and there is dissatisfaction with others, such as waste management. If the financial challenge is to be met the council needs to begin a different conversation with the people it represents”.
On other matters, the report says:
“Birmingham City Council’s size acts as both a badge and a barrier: it has led to a not invented here, silo based and council knows best culture. These characteristics are not an inescapable feature of Birmingham City Council’s size but they need to be acknowledged and addressed. There is much to learn here from other large authorities”.
It says that,
“there is a blurring of roles between members and officers. The relationship needs to be reset and officers given the space to manage”—
an issue we have touched upon—and that,
“the council’s vision for the future of the city is neither broadly shared nor understood by the council’s officers, partners or residents”.
We accept this analysis and understand that my noble friend Lord Hunt does as well.
As for the report’s recommendations, we accept these as well, especially the focus on resetting the governance arrangements, and of course recommendation 4 concerning the electoral cycle and the Boundary Commission. These proposed changes are far-reaching but, we suggest, necessary. Recommendation 4 says:
“The Secretary of State should move Birmingham City Council to all out elections replacing the current election by thirds. In the interest of effective and convenient local government the Local Government Boundary Commission for England should conduct an Electoral Review, that reflects existing communities, to help the council produce an effective model for representative governance. It should aim to complete its work to enable elections by May 2017”—
now 2018, we understand.
My noble friend Lord Hunt is right to seek assurance that the challenges identified by Kerslake and the actions required are not being distracted by electoral processes—I think that was the key argument that my noble friend made. But the recommended switch from elections in thirds to all-in, all-out elections every four years is surely an integral part of the change that is necessary. In particular, the report highlights the problem of a culture of short-termism, referring to,
“an inability to focus on longer term problems, including transforming services”,
and suggests that,
“changing the electoral cycle to all out elections can have a significant impact on a council’s ability to change and adapt, provide stability in decision making and aid long term planning and vision”.
We agree with that, as do the Government, I think. We consider that the regulations should proceed and I hope my noble friend will be comforted in this regard by the debate and the understanding of the issues that he has raised.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, for tabling the Motion. It is important that, in the—albeit brief—debate that we have just had, your Lordships’ House reviewed and discussed the important issue of the Kerslake report. I join other noble Lords in recognising the sterling work done by Sir Bob Kerslake in the review of Birmingham, and look forward to welcoming him to your Lordships’ House. He and his team have clearly shown that Birmingham—both the city and the council—are some way from fulfilling their full potential, and indeed their past potential, which noble Lords talked about. The challenges they face are deep-rooted and there are serious problems that they need to face up to, such as an underperforming economy, poor local services in certain respects and no credible plans to address the council’s very significant budget difficulties. That England’s second city faces such challenges is something that should concern us all. I am therefore extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt.
I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. I was seeking to meet him in advance of this debate and perhaps speak to him on Sunday. However, being a father of three and it being Mothering Sunday, I was under strict orders not to look at the phone in the key hours of the day. I apologise that we were unable to talk earlier.
I recognise and share many of the concerns that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, has expressed. Indeed, I found myself in total agreement with the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Rooker. In particular, I listened with great attention to his description of the Labour Party conference. Not having attended one myself, I bow to his view of how the plenary, and indeed the fringe, sessions proceed. Nevertheless, I thank all noble Lords, and the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, and Her Majesty’s Opposition, for their support for this order. It is important that we come together in ensuring that the great city of Birmingham realises its full potential.
We believe that the change to the election cycle in the city of Birmingham is critical to securing the fundamental reforms that the city needs. The current pattern of elections by thirds has not helped Birmingham’s ability to take strategic decisions. There is, as we all recognise, an inability to focus on the longer-term problems that are holding the council back, including transforming services. When we are children, we are often told not to do things by halves—or by thirds, in this case—so perhaps a move to whole-council elections will give the council the impetus that it needs. It will give a four-year stable mandate and facilitate the strategic decision-making that we all desire. It will enable the council more effectively to take those longer-term decisions and forge a strategic and long-term vision for the future and the city as a whole.
The approach of moving councils where reform is imperative to holding whole-council elections is not unprecedented. The previous Labour Government did this in the case of Stoke-on-Trent and we have done this for Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council, where the first full-council elections will take place in May this year. More generally, the Government are on public record as recognising the benefits of whole-council elections every four years. In our White Paper response to my noble friend Lord Heseltine’s report on promoting economic growth, No Stone Unturned: In Pursuit of Growth, we said that,
“the Government welcomes the adoption anywhere of four-yearly whole council elections”,
while recognising that this was generally a matter for local choice.
The noble Lords, Lord McKenzie and Lord Hunt, raised the issue of the order being made so quickly. I recognise that, following the publication of Sir Bob’s report, matters have moved swiftly and continue to do so. I take this opportunity to apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, for not alerting him earlier to the further order, which we laid on Friday, which will shift the date for the first whole-council elections from May 2017, as recommended by Sir Bob Kerslake, to May 2018. I shall explain both why we are moving so quickly and why we have changed the start date.
First, as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, recognises, the situation in Birmingham is serious. Indeed, all noble Lords who took part in the debate made that point. Fundamental reform is essential and needs to be driven forward as quickly as possible. We quickly established the Birmingham independent improvement panel, led by Sir John Crabtree, a highly respected figure in the city whose lifelong commitment to the well-being of Birmingham is known to all. The panel’s role is to provide challenge and advice to the council as it follows its improvement journey in response to the Kerslake report. The council quickly set to work to draw up an action plan to implement the Kerslake recommendations made to it and is now seeking to finalise this, working closely with the improvement panel.
Along with recommending a change to whole-council elections, the Kerslake report recommended that the Local Government Boundary Commission for England undertake an electoral review. The aim of this review, when linked with a move to whole-council elections, is to move the council away from having three-member wards and to enable there to be a smaller council. Such a council, with many single-member wards, will be better able both to represent local people and more effectively to take the tough decisions needed to address the challenges that Birmingham faces. The boundary commission has already started its work. Before it can get to grips with its review, it needs certainty about the pattern of elections that the council will hold, hence the urgent need for any order changing the pattern of elections to be made as soon as practicable.
That is what we did. We made the order on 21 January; we laid it before Parliament on the 22 January; and it came into force on 16 February. It implemented fully the Kerslake recommendations, including the start date recommended by the report. We knew that this report had been prepared following many meetings with residents, business leaders, community and faith leaders, the voluntary and community sector, local politicians, council officers, front-line staff, and representatives of other public services. The review heard the views of more than 350 people and received 80 submissions of written evidence.
However, with the order having been made, some suggested that 2018 would be a better year in which to hold the first whole-council elections. This is because Birmingham, like the other West Midlands authorities, would then continue to have no local elections in 2017, 2021 and so on. It would also avoid councillors being elected for just a one-year term, which would be the case for those elected in 2016 if the first whole-council elections were in May 2017. Our sole aim is to do what is best for Birmingham. We have been persuaded that a 2018 start date is on balance better than the 2017 start date, even though it means that a renewed council with a clear four-year mandate will not be in place until one year later.
I assure noble Lords that I fully take on board the points that have been made during this debate. In particular, the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, talked about the importance of training for officers and councillors. That is a very important point to reflect on, because, too often, people put themselves forward for office without perhaps fully understanding the nature of their role and its importance in decision-making.
The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, drew an important distinction between the roles of elected members and officers. Training and the renewal of such training are important not just in Birmingham but around the country.
I am confident that these orders provide a firm foundation for the many changes that are needed in Birmingham—challenges that I know the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, knows only too well. There is an overwhelming consensus that the council cannot carry on any longer as it is. The issues are deeply rooted and will not change overnight, but a start needs to be made now. This order is part of the start and I commend it to the House.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister and my noble friends Lord Rooker and Lord McKenzie. I will not speak for any length of time; I want to make four brief points.
First, I endorse what my noble friend Lord Rooker said. Going back to Victorian days and over many decades, Birmingham led the way as a strong exponent of what local government could be. The sanitation improvements, the housing improvements and the Chamberlain improvements showed what a vigorous, confident city could do to improve the lot of its citizens, and it is clear that that is what we want to get back to.
Secondly, my noble friend is also right that, at some point, we have to face up to the “greater Birmingham” issue. The relationship between Birmingham and the other boroughs in the West Midlands is not what it should be. We cannot take advantage of what we see as a great pendulum swing back to local government and autonomy unless that relationship is sorted out. I agree with my noble friend on his point about Birmingham and the boroughs. In the end, that will be resolved only if Birmingham gives confidence to the other boroughs that a partnership can truly be created.
Thirdly, the roles between councillors and officers are crucial. All I will say is that I hope that the panel that has now been established to help and challenge the city council will focus on governance, relationships and culture. That seems to be where a huge amount of work needs to be done.
Finally, I listened with care to the Minister’s argument and, of course, I support the order. However, I worry that for three years the council will be inwardly focused on boundary commission reviews, new wards, selection and then election. I hope that the noble Lord’s department, in its relationship with the city council and the panel, will do everything it can to ensure that the eyes of the leadership and all those involved with the city council are focused as much as possible on the job in hand: improving service to the people of Birmingham rather than, as I fear, worrying about the boundary review. I was not encouraged by the intervention of the chairman of the Local Government Boundary Commission for England over the past few days. It seemed that he tried to embark on a sort of city-wide debate in terms of boundaries and wards. That is the last thing we need to worry about at the moment. The job in hand is improving Birmingham’s services. Having said that, I beg to move my Motion.