Category Archives: speech

LGA Conference welcome: Local government matters more than ever

Cllr Ian Ward delivering LGA Conference welcome speech

My speech welcoming the 2018 LGA Conference to Birmingham.

May I offer you, the Secretary of State and all our delegates a formal welcome to Birmingham – one of Europe’s youngest cities and, of course, home to the UK’s largest local authority.

I hope the next few days in our city prove to be enjoyable, enlightening and fruitful as many of the leading figures in local government come together to inspire and be inspired.

You come to Birmingham at an exciting time – we’ve even given you Blue Skies… but more of that later.

This young, diverse, creative city is going through a dramatic period of transformation at the moment.

In fact you could argue that we’ve entered a golden decade that will define Birmingham and the wider region for generations to come.

We’re building homes, attracting investment, creating jobs, building the infrastructure for HS2 and preparing to host the 2022 Commonwealth Games.

Birmingham is a city that is buzzing with the noise of regeneration and we have many reasons for optimism.

But of course like every town, city and county represented here this week, we have our challenges.

And sadly, at a time of continued cuts, those challenges are what get most of the attention, as the coverage of local government focusses on what we are no longer able to do.

The cuts and the bad news get the headlines, while the good work goes largely ignored.

This is not a glamourous sector, but councils up and down the country are providing essential support and services.

We’re the safety net; the very frontline of the welfare state and we’re currently needed more than ever before by the millions of people we serve.

Local government might not tug at the heartstrings like the NHS, the police or the fire service, but we are no less important.

And one thing that everyone in this room knows is that local government matters.

Of course, the to-do list for councils across the country is a daunting one, but I know that there are dedicated teams of committed professionals from councils up and down the country that are rising to the challenge on a daily basis.

Local government is blessed with creative, resourceful and tireless officers and councillors who, just like their NHS counterparts, are there to support people from the cradle to the grave.

Over the last eight years, we have continued to deliver vital services and support in the face of unprecedented cuts – in Birmingham for example our budget has been slashed by over £650 million a year as a result of Government grant cuts and rising costs.

That same period has seen demand for many of our services grow. The housing crisis, bridging the skills gap, ever-rising demands for adult social care and preparing for a post-Brexit economy are just a few of the challenges faced by our sector.

The Secretary of State will hear a lot about those challenges at this conference, but he will also hear, and hopefully acknowledge, how this sector is getting on with the job and working harder than ever to improve outcomes for the people who rely on us.

That’s certainly what we’re doing here in Birmingham.

As I said earlier, this is one of Europe’s youngest cities; with almost half of the population aged under 30 and 30 per cent of people are under 20.

And, while that presents us with many challenges, just think about all the possibilities – the enormous potential of our young people.

This city is a conveyor belt of talent and our task as a city council is to work with partners – from the Government and the business sector through to community organisations – so we can create the right environment for our young people to shine.

So, how do we harness that huge potential?

How do we convince the next generation that Birmingham is a place where they can develop and thrive; where talent is nurtured and young people are given every opportunity to succeed?

  • We do what councils have always done and what councils throughout the UK are doing every day – in spite of austerity.
  • We build the houses needed by a growing population.
  • We work with business to attract the investment that will create the jobs and opportunities that our young people deserve.
  • We work with our schools, colleges and universities to ensure that young people are being equipped with the skills needed to take advantage of those opportunities.
  • And we provide the platform to showcase the talent, creativity and energy of the next generation.

To give you an example, I’d like to close by showing you how the young people of this city showcased their talents to a global audience of over 1 billion people earlier this year.

As I hope you’re all aware, Birmingham is preparing to host the Commonwealth Games in 2022 and in April, after Australia’s Gold Coast hosted the 21st edition of the Games, they passed the Commonwealth Games flag onto this city.

That put Birmingham firmly in the spotlight as the talented young people you’re about to see were given a chance to show what this city has to offer and fantastically rose to the challenge.

They made the city proud and reminded me that, despite the challenges and the pressures, working in local government continues to be a rewarding and worthwhile experience.

We’re here to work for and with our citizens, so let me show you how Birmingham did just that.

 

In 2022 we would like to invite people from across the world to our city to see the Games and you will all be very, very welcome.

In the meantime, have a great conference. Thank you and enjoy the city.

Speech: Homelessness Prevention Strategy launch

My speech at the launch of the Birmingham Homelessness Prevention Strategy

Download the strategy here: https://www.birmingham.gov.uk/download/downloads/id/2531/birmingham_homelessness_prevention_strategy_2017.pdf

 

Good morning ladies and gentlemen and thank you for joining us here for the launch of the Birmingham Homelessness Prevention Strategy.

You can tell a lot about a city from the way it unites to protect its most vulnerable.

So we can take great pride in the fact that so many partners are coming together to tackle and prevent homelessness.

It’s doesn’t surprise me that Birmingham continues to be a city that helps those in need. Compassion is in our collective DNA. This is a city that stands up for victims; a city that unites to counter injustice and inequality.

And, while compassion and good intentions will only get us so far, what is clear from this strategy is that together we also have the vision, the skills and the sheer determination to tackle an issue that has disastrous consequences for far too many Birmingham citizens.

And I’m not just talking about the very visible rough sleeping crisis.

The sad truth is that Birmingham also has a high number of families who are homeless or in temporary accommodation. And, as we’ve seen in other UK towns and cities, those figures have risen dramatically over the last eight years.

Behind that rise we find far too many individual tales of heartbreak and hardship, we find far too many children living in temporary accommodation often badly affecting their education and we find far too many lives irrevocably damaged.

We cannot and will not sit back as a city and allow that to continue.

Homelessness ruins lives and this strategy acknowledges that we need to do more to recognise the impact that the trauma of homelessness can have on physical and mental health of both adults and children.

Homeless households experience severe health inequalities, and a lower life expectancy than the general population.

Shockingly we know that the impact begins at birth, with homeless children more likely to be born at a low birth weight and miss their immunisations.

Homeless children are three times more likely to experience poor mental health; the impact of which is long lasting.

And even after they have a new home, children who experience homelessness remain vulnerable to family breakdown, domestic abuse, mental ill health, and learning and development difficulties.

At whatever stage in life you are at, homelessness destroys potential.

Which is why the key to this strategy is that vital word: PREVENTION.

Our new focus is on preventing people from becoming homeless in the first place and supporting those who are homeless to build a more positive future in good health, sustainable accommodation and long lasting employment.

To succeed, we must help people secure homes that they can afford and maintain, which is why in the recent local elections we promised to build more affordable homes and homes for social rent.

Saying it is the easy part but we must not underestimate the scale of the challenge.

With the population predicted to rise by 150,000 by 2031, Birmingham needs 89,000 new homes to meet the needs of the city’s population over the next 13 years.

I promise that Birmingham City Council will play its part. Since 2012, we’ve built more affordable homes than any other council in the country and we will continue to build much needed affordable homes through Birmingham Municipal Housing Trust.

But, as the strategy we’re launching today makes clear, we need a range of safe, decent, affordable housing options, both shared and self-contained, in the private, social and third sectors.

We all have a part to play and, though this is a huge challenge, I firmly believe we can work together to drive the systemic change required to deliver this strategy and achieve our collective vision for Birmingham.

Last week we launched our Domestic Abuse Prevention Strategy – an issue often closely linked to homelessness – and I said then that we must ask ourselves what sort of a city we want to live in.

What sort of Birmingham do we want our young people to grow up in?

And, what value do we place on respecting and protecting the most vulnerable in our city?

Those questions are equally applicable as we address the issue of homelessness.

If we look around Birmingham in 2018, this is a city undergoing a dramatic and exciting transformation.

The cranes on our skyline, the building sites and the sheer scale of new developments mean that this is a city on the up.

Our challenge now is to ensure that everyone gets an opportunity to share in that success.

And, at the very least, we should strive to be a city where everyone has a roof over their head and place to call home.

That’s why I’m delighted that so many of the City’s partners and stakeholders have come together to deliver the strategy we’re launching today.

Let’s make it happen.

The Living Wage has never been more important

My speech to mark the start of Living Wage Week 2017.

Good morning ladies and gentlemen and thank you for inviting me along to talk about an issue that I believe goes right to the heart of creating a fairer and more successful Birmingham.

The Living Wage

It’s now five years since the Labour council introduced the Birmingham Living Wage – and I’m as proud of it today as I was back in 2012.

Introducing the Living Wage was the very first item on the agenda for our first Cabinet meeting when we regained control of the council.

In many ways Birmingham City Council was one of the pioneers, although I’m delighted to say many more organisations (large and small) up and down the country have followed suit in recent years.   Indeed, the Living Wage Foundation has recently welcomed its milestone 3,500th accredited Living Wage employer.

Today Birmingham City Council pays the Living Wage to around 4,000 employees (1,600 of them working in schools across the city).  Those are figures of which we can all be proud.

But of course there are always human stories behind the statistics. So just think for a moment what that figure of 4,000 Living Wage employees means.

I don’t think I’m being too dramatic when I say that in thousands of Birmingham households, the Living Wage is quite simply the difference between coping and not coping.

At a time when far too many people are struggling on zero-hours contracts in the so-called gig economy, thousands of city council employees are getting a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.

And within work benefits now under attack by the Government the Living Wage has never been more important.

We all know that for many people in 2017, simply getting by is a struggle.

Child poverty in the UK is set to reach record levels, Food Banks have never been busier, and homelessness is on the rise across the country.

Inflation is at its highest level since 2012 most people’s standard of living is being squeezed and people are noticing that as they shop for food and pay their household bills.

Under those circumstances, the Birmingham Living Wage can be – and very often is for the lowest paid – the difference between managing and struggling.

That this is in any way a charitable gesture and don’t let anyone claim.

This is about paying people a rate of pay that allows dignity in work.

It’s about respecting and valuing our employees and employers – also benefit as we see improved motivation and productivity.

And this is not just about the people we employ directly.

Far from it.

As many of you know, in 2013 we introduced the Birmingham Business Charter for Social Responsibility, making it a condition of any new contract to supply goods and services to the city council that businesses agree to support staff development and welfare AND to pay the Living Wage.

The result is that more than 600 employees of contractors or service providers have had their pay increased to the Birmingham Living Wage.

Organisations continue to sign-up to our Charter for Social Responsibility and this year a further 138 organisations have been accredited.

Of course there is still much to do.

A report published last month by the Resolution Foundation and the Social Mobility Commission makes for sobering reading:

  • While record numbers of people are in employment, too many jobs are low skilled and low paid.
  • Millions of workers – particularly women – are being trapped in low pay with little chance of escape. The consequences for social mobility are dire.
  • A quarter of Britain’s low paid workers are permanently stuck in poorly paid jobs
  • Half of Britain’s low paid workers cycle in and out of low pay
  • And Women are more likely to be low paid than men and are also far more likely to get stuck in low pay.

It’s against this backdrop that we must continue to roll-out the Birmingham Living Wage

Helping people across Birmingham escape low pay is morally the right thing to do. It will also help to ensure that the economic growth and regeneration we see in our city today benefits everyone.

We all have to have a stake in Birmingham’s future if we are to build a cohesive Birmingham and the continued take-up of the Living Wage will ensure that more and more people share in the success of a city on the up.