Over the past few months I have been on a training course with Common Purpose about leadership and the Total Place concept for Birmingham, showing how we need to work together to achieve the Birmingham 2026 vision. There have also been seminars and talks where this has been discussed alongside the reality of public service cuts in the offing, such as Monday’s event at the MAC.
The vision is a good one as far as we’re concerned, with really good aspirations for Birmingham to become a greener, more sustainable city. Birmingham also has a Climate Change Action Plan, which begins to show how the council is going to achieve the ambitious target it has for cutting CO2 emissions by 60% by 2026. Yesterday I went along to the first ever cabinet committee meeting on Climate Change and sustainability, where they talked about this plan and the progress that has been made in moving towards the goals it contains.
All of this sounds very positive and should be cause for celebration, but at the moment, with so many public sector jobs under threat and funding cuts for many really good projects already starting to bite or in the pipeline, it is quite hard to be quite that positive about delivery. Birmingham is a city with many talented and dedicated people who really want to make a difference, but the concern is that if all the regional agencies and support mechanisms for local authorities are removed, a large vacuum will be left and all the energy will disappear into it.
Total Place is potentially a good concept, but most of the talk amongst the participants on the course has been about how many people are losing their jobs. There are inspiring ideas and there is a real desire amongst most of the people there to be recognised as public servants who really are serving the public, not being bashed for doing “non-jobs” by politicians (who probably want public attention deflected away from them after their expenses scandals last year).
The most important thing is that the leadership at the council take on real responsibility for the actions happening and I was encouraged by at least one councillor at the meeting yesterday saying that he would do exactly that. It is also up to all of us to show leadership and to remind the politicians of what we’ve told them when consulted in the preparation of all these visions.
Policy on the ground has to match up to the visions, meaning local business is supported (while large supermarkets and chainstores aren’t given planning permission) and people are given the employment opportunities, independent retail outlets and leisure facilities they need locally to reduce the need to travel. If developments such as Tesco in Yardley Wood or Moseley and Asda in Weoley Castle are granted permission, this sets the city on the wrong course, as does the refusal of planning permission to put solar panels on St Mary’s church.
Let’s get everything joined up and make sure a vision of a sustainable city does come to life. Cuts are on the way, so are massive challenges to stop the big society becoming hugely disappointed with promises not materialising into action.