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Pass the poisoned chalice.

Byline: PAULDALE

One of the things immediately noticeable about the selfstyled Progressive Partnership running Birmingham City Council is that the Liberal Democrat half got the lousiest cabinet posts when the spoils were divided back in 2004.

Local Services and Community Safety, for example, a title so vague and meaningless that those who have held the post have been able to get away with almost anything, or more accurately doing almost nothing, since no one understands quite what it is they are actually supposed to be running.

Adults and Communities, aka social services, run by the indomitable Sue Anderson, is a position laden with opportunities for disaster and bad headlines. Politicians that succeed in this area are rarely thanked; but the many that fail to get a grip on cash budgets never large enough to meet growing demand for services will find criticism falling upon their heads like a ton of bricks.

Another Lib Dem cabinet post is that of the deputy council leader, Paul Tilsley, whose portfolio amounts to a thankless task of making sure his colleagues deliver promised business transformation savings and playing second fiddle to Tory council leader Mike Whitby.

In order to give the deputy council leader some meaning in life, Coun Tilsley has been handed responsibility for green matters and climate change, which involves him travelling here there and everywhere to tell the rest of the world what Birmingham is doing about global warming.

This involves Coun Tilsley being away from the city quite a lot, which suits Mike Whitby just fine.

And then there is the fourth Lib Dem cabinet post, the poisoned chalice of leisure, sport and culture.

Initially in June 2004, this was a Tory post and remained so until Coun Tilsley and Co woke up to the fact that the Conservatives held more positions around the top table than their strength in the council chamber entitled them to. Who can forget the first Tory leisure, sport and culture member? Well, most people have forgotten actually, but let me remind you that it was Nigel Dawkins.

Coun Dawkins fell on his sword at a very early stage having argued publicly with Mike Whitby about the Christmas German market. Dawkins wanted Ye Olde Dickensian English market instead.

Whitby did not. Dawkins soon found himself spending more time with his family.

He was replaced by Tory John Alden, whose period in office was marked by a failure to achieve anything other than being outfoxed by leisure officers who even in 2004-05 were doing their best to massage a growing financial crisis in the department's budget.

The cabinet position then went to Lib Dem Ray Hassall, who last year was overthrown by his colleague Coun Martin Mullaney, the current cabinet member for leisure, sport and culture. Mullaney must by now have realised that he took over at just the wrong time, since his pounds 68 million budget is right in the firing line for savage spending cuts.

He can't even take any comfort from the grandiose projects - the library and the Olympic pool are both firmly in Mike Whitby's hands - and he looks destined to go down in history as the politician responsible for closing most of Birmingham's municipal golf clubs.

Mullaney's predecessors ought to have taken firm action years ago, but clung on to an insane belief that councils have a knack of running golf courses. The truth is that Birmingham's seven municipal courses - yes that's right, the council has seven golf courses and they don't even have that many at St Andrew's - have long ago been outclassed by better facilities at competitively priced private courses.

The idea that honest, working class Brummies are going to be turned away by snobbish committees running private courses is a myth that continues to run its course only in the confines of Birmingham City Council.

The city's golf courses are losing almost pounds 700,000 a year and it is a no-brainer that most will have to close or be flogged off to private operators. A rather more difficult decision for Mullaney, and potentially politically explosive, is the future of community-based facilities that fall under his portfoilo, namely libraries, sports and leisure centres.

The Hall Green Constituency Commit-t tee, where Mullaney as luck would have it is vice-chairman, has made such a pig's ear of running its pounds 9.6 million budget that cuts amounting to pounds 1.8 million are having to be made.

Jobs are going and the future of invest-t ment in swimming pools announced by Mullaney months ago looks uncertain.

Who can recall a mini-row a year or so ago when Coun Tilsley became quite exercised about rumours that cuts to community library services were being planned in his Yardley fiefdom? I, for one, would not wish to be in Mullaney's shoes when it becomes clear that nowhere in Birmingham is safe from cuts, not even Yardley.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jan 7, 2010
Words:813
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