Elected Mayor Will Give City the Strong Leadership It Needs; Political Parties Are Being Urged to Wake Up to the Probability That Birmingham Will Soon Be Governed by a Directly Elected Mayor and to Begin a Great Debate on the Issue, Reports Public Affairs Correspondent Paul Dale

Article excerpt

Byline: Paul Dale

Lord Adonis, the former Schools Minister appointed by David Cameron to tour the country and find out what people think about having major cities run by directly elected mayors, doesn't mince his words when discussing Birmingham City Council's performance.

The council's record on delivering economic development and transportation is poor, the scale of unemployment is a disgrace and too many schools are badly under-performing, he contends. The city "desperately" needs leadership on these pressing issues, he believes.

Think how much better things would be if Birmingham were to be run by a powerful mayor with a direct mandate from the people. A person who would be able to hire cabinet members with real ability regardless of political leanings and sack lazy jobsworths. A man or woman with the ability and charisma to promote the city nationally and internationally - someone who would become as well known across the country in the future as Boris Johnson and Ken Livingstone are in London.

Birmingham will indeed get the chance to elect a mayor, but only if a referendum to be held in May 2012 produces a clear majority in favour. When the Localism Bill becomes law at the end of this year, Birmingham's Tory city council leader Mike Whitby will be shadow mayor with the powers currently enjoyed by other city mayors in England and the race will be on for political parties to select their candidates to run for mayor in 2013, assuming that the referendum goes in favour. Lord Adonis is at pains to state that his gloomy assessment of Birmingham's performance should not be interpreted as an attack on Coun Whitby.

He adds: "I have worked closely with Mike and had a good constructive relationship with him. Nothing I am saying should be taken as being critical of him. It's the system that needs changing. The issue is how to make stronger city governance able to put the case for the city nationally and internationally to get things done. We need a great debate on this."

He pays tribute to some of Birmingham's record over the past 20 years - the city is a better place than it was - but insists that progress has not been fast enough, particularly on the skills and job creation front. Lord Adonis adds: "There is a pressing reason for why Birmingham needs leadership to bring businesses and jobs here, not least because unemployment stands at 10 per cent and is one of the highest totals in the country. Issues like transport desperately need strong leadership to deliver improvement. Why is it that Birmingham Airport still hasn't got its runway extension because there isn't an appropriate funding package in place? "The city council already has hugely important powers over education, transport, economic development and housing. The big issue is whether it is doing well enough in areas where it already has powers.

"Birmingham has one of the worst performing school systems in the country. There are communities where, frankly, the quality of education is far from good enough. There are too many weak and failing schools. The question has to be asked, if you had stronger, more powerful, city leadership could you get better things done in education than you possibly could through the existing system? …