There are supposed to be Ward Forums in each of the 69 Wards, meeting 6 times a year with their councillors. But in 2020 21 Ward Forums never met at all, even online.
Of these Bordesley Green, with Labour Cllr Chauhdry Rashid, last met in November 2018, and two Ward Forums have never held a single meeting ever – South Yardley with Lib Dem Cllr Zaker Choudhry and Sutton Walmley & Minworth with two Tory councillors, David Barrie and Ken Wood.
An additional 10 Ward Forums haven’t met since February 2020: Bartley Green, Edgbaston, Glebe Farm & Tile Cross, Gravelly Hill, Handsworth Wood, Highter’s Heath, Ladywood, Longbridge & West Heath, Sutton Roughley, Sutton Trinity.
They can’t claim Covid as an excuse because lots of Ward Forums have managed to hold online meetings. In fact the opposite is true – the Covid crisis has made meetings of local communities and councillors even more necessary, to deal with problems and ensure support.
Birmingham’s Neighbourhoods’ says: ‘we have established a package of flexible support for Ward Forums, so that wards are able to hold six meetings per year.’ (p14).
‘Each ward has a Ward Forum which focuses on the issues, priorities and decisions important to people in their local area. Ward Forums also enable community engagement, debate and action by coordinating the work of councillors with neighbourhood forums, residents associations and neighbourhood, community or parish councils;’ (p39)
In the Foreword Councillor Sharon Thompson, Cabinet Member for Homes and Neighbourhoods, says ‘Our overall aim is to move from focusing on the city council and its structures to a citizen focused approach, working with neighbourhoods to make things work better from the point of view of local residents’.
But the policy document doesn’t say who is responsible for ensuring that Ward Forums take place. Requests from angry and disappointed residents have been gone unanswered.
This is what Council leader Ian Ward calls for in his statement in the Council’s Delivery Plan that the Cabinet approved on 10 November (in italics below):
‘People … expect a much greater level of involvement in decisions that affect their lives. Be they the big things that have a bearing across the City as a whole, or the little things that have a big impact in their street or neighbourhood. People want to be heard and when they are not, they will mobilise. We are all activists now. The question for the Council: do we bring those voices in and help shape the fortunes of our city and places; or do we seek to keep them out? We need to bring them in.’
But the Ward Forum system in nearly one-third of the city’s Wards is keeping them out. It seems that their councillors – half of them Labour, half Tory, and a couple of LibDems – are choosing to ignore Council policy and have no interest in fostering democratic discussion and action in their communities.
They need to be urgently called to account by their local citizens and voters, by their party leaders, by the Cabinet Member for Homes and Neighbourhoods Cllr Sharon Thompson, and by the City Council itself.
Here is the list of the Ward Forums, with their councillors, that last met in 2019, over a year ago, with the date of last meeting:
Aston November 2019 Muhammad Afzal L
Billesley November 2019 Phil Davis L
Birchfield November 2019 Mahmood Hussain L
Brandwood & Kings Heath November 2019 Mike Leddy L, Lisa Trickett L
Castle Vale January 2019 Suzanne Webb C
Frankley Great Park July 2019 Simon Morrall C
Hall Green South May 2019 Timothy Huxtable C
Kingstanding April 2019 Gary Sambrook C, Ron Storer C
Nechells November 2019 Tahir Ali L
Oscott October 2019 Barbara Dring L
Pype Hayes September 2019 Mike Sharpe L
Rubery & Rednal June 2019 Adrian Delaney C
Small Heath October 2019 Safia Akhtar L, Zaheer Khan L
Stockland Green January 2019 Penny Holbrook L, Josh Jones L
Sutton Four Oaks July 2019 Maureen Cornish C
Sutton Mere Green July 2019 Meirion Jenkins C
Sutton Reddicap June 2019 Charlotte Hodivala C
Yardley West & Stechford October 2019 Baber Baz LD