As previous updates were welcomed – not least by the Birmingham Independent Improvement Panel and opposition leaders on the council – I suspect another update is overdue. So hopefully the following will give a flavour of my work in recent weeks. I shall post some further detail and specifics beyond this overview shortly.
Since my last diary update, the schedule shows no signs of slowing down. Far from it.
I’ve continued to meet many of the unsung community heroes who work tirelessly to make our city a better place. People like Witton Lodge Community Association, the team at the new Stirchley Baths community hub and the dedicated folk behind the Interim Parish Council in Sutton Coldfield.
These groups may all focus on different issues and different parts of the city but they’re united in one thing – the desire to contribute and improve where they live.
Schools obviously play a major role in any future vision for our city and, as a former teacher myself, I’ve been keen to speak to people at all levels of education.
Among a number of engagements, I welcomed artistic pupils from Wilkes Green Infant School, thanking them for the amazing artwork they had provided for my office walls, I’ve visited Matthew Boulton Campus and of course our university campuses.
In early March I spoke to school heads and governors about how we must work with partners to deal with unregistered schools. As importantly, I also set out the importance of the City Council, on behalf of the citizens of Birmingham, re-engaging with schools in a different kind of way in the future. The City Council must see itself, and schools need to see the council, as more in the role of the advocate for the Children of the city, especially where it is no longer the institutional provider of education.
One of my roles is to hold people to account – just as I expect people to hold me to account – and I don’t want to give the impression that my diary is a series of ‘meet and greets’. Far from it. I’m meeting and challenging the people who can and do play a major role in every aspect of Birmingham life.
So, in the role of an advocate for children,I also visited the Perry Beeches III Academy, as it was placed into special measures to discuss the way forward with executive headteacher Liam Nolan. This may be a Free School but it remains part of our school family and, like all young Brummies, the pupils at this school deserve the best possible education. I am sure Mr. Nolan would agree with me that we had a ‘full and frank’ conversation.
I also continue to meet with business leaders, including important employers like Jaguar Land Rover and HSBC. With a view to bringing more investment and high quality jobs to our city and wider region, I’ve had regular meetings with partners in the Midlands Engine, Core Cities and West Midlands Combined Authority.
It would be remiss of me to mention the combined authority without paying tribute to my friend and colleague Darren Cooper, who died suddenly over Easter weekend. I have lost a great friend. Sandwell has lost one of its great sons, and Birmingham has lost one of its great allies. Darren played a major role in bringing West Midlands councils together and the political life of our region will be the poorer for his passing.
On the political front, as you would expect, I’ve had regular meetings with our Birmingham MPs. I’ve also had talks with Government ministers including Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin and Business Secretary Sajid Javid. From the Shadow Cabinet I welcomed Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell as he visited Grand Central and also met with Shadow Transport Secretary Lilian Greenwood.
Our relationships at every level of government are important and cross-party working will continue. But Birmingham is an international city and I was delighted to welcome Chinese Minister of Commerce Gao Hucheng to our city. I also met a number of city leaders from across the world at international property market event MIPIM.
One thing that was abundantly clear at MIPIM was that successful cities must offer a complete package to be successful. New developments and business growth are of course important but we must also focus on the overall offer. So I’ve had regular meetings with important figures from our cultural sector, including Anita Bhalla from the Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP and Fiona Allan of Birmingham Hippodrome.
This is just a snapshot and I haven’t come anywhere near mentioning all of the people and organisations I come into contact with. But I’ll continue to provide the updates and hopefully they prove useful and informative.