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Talk about a revolution is just a war of words.

The first new-style council meeting to be held since Birmingham's controversial town hall revolution descended into political bickering and point-scoring last night.

Labour council leader Albert Bore had hoped elected members would use the meeting for constructive debate on his cabinet's first statement.

The statement is the first major document to be drawn up by Coun Bore's 12-member cabinet since it was ratified last month and lays down targets for services in the city under six themes, including health and education.

At the start of the debate, Coun Bore (Ladywood) spoke of his vision for the future of the full council.

This included councillors having debates on proposed policies before they were passed to advisory teams for further discussion. Following this, a decision on the policy would then be made by the relevant cabinet member.

Coun Bore said: "This meeting is to be used as an experiment. Until now the city council has been in effect a rubber-stamping ground. The budget was the only policy that was debated.

"The city council will have responsibility for debating policy frameworks. The cabinet will then operate within those policy frameworks.

"The debate should be in such a manner to take on board the best interests of the people of Birmingham and Birmingham as a city."

Councillors entered into the debate after it was agreed to suspend the usual structure of the meeting. Under the move, the full council was turned into a committee to give all members a chance to have their say on the cabinet statement.

The change has been allowed under the terms of the Local Government Bill which has seen Birmingham introduce an all-powerful cabinet and leader under Coun Bore.

An interim structure is in place with the cabinet going "through the motions" while decisions are still made by committees. When the Bill becomes law, the changes will be implemented fully with committees abolished and the cabinet making all the decisions.

The shake-up has been met with fierce opposition by councillors both inside and outside the Labour group and the criticism continued during last night's statement debate.

Leader of the Conservative group, Coun David Roy (Sutton Vesey), believed the new structure would be short-lived. He claimed in six months the system would be scrapped in favour of one "that works".

"We are totally opposed to the cabinet system," he said.

"The cabinet will meet behind closed doors, backbenchers will not know what is going on. The press are excluded and, more importantly, members of the public are excluded."

Coun David Osborne (Lib Dem Acocks Green) said the cabinet statement was a copy of priorities already drawn up by the council before the cabinet structure was introduced.

"It is a timetable of what is hoped to be achieved. It does not say anything different from what we were hoping to achieve before this cabinet came into being," he said.

"If we had not hoped to achieve these things, then this council would have been a pretty poor council."

He claimed the statement listed priorities but did not explain how they would be met.

Coun Anne Underwood (Con Sutton Four Oaks) said the document was in contradiction with the council's present plans.

She highlighted a pledge to spend pounds 6 million improving children's homes when there was already a push to make more use of foster parents.

Members of the Labour group said the debate was "disappointing".

Former mayor Coun Sybil Spence (Lab Soho) said: "We are not here to play politics but to look after residents in a meaningful way.

"This is an opportunity for the opposition to put some genuine input into this new structure.

"It is disappointing to listen to the debate from the opposition. It is just destructive."
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Author:Luck, Deborah
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Feb 2, 2000
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