The new Labour administration in Birmingham is planning to change tenant engagement in the city and has embarked on a series of consultation meetings on the subject. Today’s was originally billed as a joint Edgbaston and Northfield meeting but to be held in Northfield. Both Cllr Bruce Lines and I requested that a meeting should be held actually in the Edgbaston constituency (which will be easier for our residents) and this has now been arranged for September. However this information was only given to us yesterday, and as the Councillors had already been invited to today’s meeting, and as Cllr James Hutchings had by yesterday come back from his holiday in order to attend today’s meeting, he and I still went along.
About 25 people attended. Cllr Eddie Freeman (Weoley) and Cllr Reg Corns (Northfield) were also present, as well as me and James. The four Councillors who were there are all Conservatives. A few other Councillors had sent their apologies, some hadn’t even bothered to do that. There were no Labour Councillors present, which is a pity because if they had come, they would have seen how much opposition there is to their plans to abolish HLBs, and how much anger was directed (from the tenants) at the Labour leader, Sir Albert Bore whose name appears on the front of the document and who I understand presented the proposals at the City HLB.
Nobody today spoke in favour of the proposals. Not one single person.
A number of things angered the residents (and the Conservative Councillors). These included:
The fact that the consultation is taking place at short notice and over the holiday period. Letters advising residents and Councillors of today’s meeting and including a copy of the consultation document arrived on August 1st. August is the month when HLBs generally don’t meet.
The fact that the Council will stop supporting HLBs on November 1st – but the decision to change tenant engagement isn’t apparently due until the November Council meeting on Nov 6th. This was one of many things which made people feel the decision to abolish HLBs was a done deal.
The fact that Ward HLBs will be abolished. Instead, tenants are being offered a role at Neighbourhood or District level. People today made it clear that for various reasons they thought Ward level was best and they felt that the plans for Neighbourhood Panels were too flimsy.
The fact that the City HLB is also to be abolished with just one Tenants’ Champion, an annual convention and short-life Task & Finish Groups in its place.
The fact that the Ward HLB budgets will no longer be the responsibility of tenants but will run alongside Community Chest. I personally wonder whether there will actually be the same amount of Community Chest & the same amount of HLB budget available as now – or whether in combining the two, the total figure for each ward will go down.
I could go on listing the things people disagreed with – but you get the picture. It was felt Labour’s plans were totally undemocratic and that at the same time as everyone was talking about empowering people – tenants’ powers were actually being taken away.
Such was the disagreement, I understand that HLBs across the city are working on counter proposals to Labour’s unpopular plans, which is good news. One hopes the ruling administration will listen to the tenants. It would perhaps be a start if (unlike in the Northfield Constituency today) at least some Labour Councillors turned up to hear what their tenants had to say, even if it does make uncomfortable listening for them.