Allotments, flags and resident action – a week in Moseley & Kings Heath

by Councillor Claire Spencer

I seem to have a lot of conversations with people – in all areas of life – about how hard it is to balance ‘doing stuff’ with ‘telling people about doing stuff’. In Council life, actually doing the casework, working with residents and learning how best to make use of local resources, has to come first. But communicating what happens is really important – it empowers residents by showing what is possible, and gives them insight into how councillors spend their time.

So when it comes to getting more people to work with us, as well as holding the Council to account, good communication is vital. And we aren’t always that great at it. So I’m going to try to do a regular highlights blog (ideally weekly, but we’ll see) which gives you some insight into what we’ve been doing in the previous week.

I won’t generally write about casework unless there is a wider issue or learning point, but I have had a good mix this week: planning applications, housing repairs and general street scene issues.

Visting Billesley Lane Allotments, Moseley

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Sedum roof on the shed at Billesley Lane allotments

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Beautiful wilderness

 

During the election campaign, I met Rob from Billesley Lane Allotments when I knocked on his door: he told me about their ongoing lease negotiations with Moseley Golf Club, and what a haven it was. So when Jane – the Chair of Billesley Lane Allotments Association – invited me to come and see the allotments on Sunday morning (including a promise of tea and biscuits), I was delighted to have the chance to catch up. I was struck by how much it felt like a family – a tea round on the go, and a horn sounded when it was ready to call people from their plots. Plotholders had a really good relationship, willing to step in to keep the whole site rich with life, and to help one another on their plots when life got in the way.

Another plotholder, Grahame, had taken responsibility for creating a ‘Space for Nature’ policy for the allotments – encouraging the growth of wildflowers and plants, as well as cultivated bee-friendly varieties of flower. It also covers wildlife – there are two beehives on site, and a number of nesting boxes. If other allotments are interested, Billesley Lane are happy to share the document – just get in touch with me and I’ll forward it to you.

The allotment has worked really hard in recent years to nurture a positive relationship with Moseley Golf Club (and vice versa) so next week I will be meeting with their Chair to learn about what makes them such a high quality golfing facility (I have only played Wii Golf, with varying levels of success), and to find out what the Council can do to give them confidence about extending the allotment’s lease.

 

Westfield Road: residents voice their concerns

A few weeks ago, I went on patrol with Lisa and Carolle from Westfield Road Streetwatch – they had had a really good relationship with my predecessor Ernie Hendricks, and wanted to ensure that I was aware of their work and willing to listen. As we walked their route, we discussed a meeting that they and Councillor Martin Straker-Welds had been pulling together over the last few months: where neighbourhood police, the Council’s Safer Communities, Environmental Health and Private Rented Sector teams, property management companies and local landlords would sit with residents to discuss issues relating to antisocial behaviour and environmental degradation. This meeting took place on Tuesday, at Kings Heath Community Centre. Some residents – many of them part of Streetwatch –  were very familiar with the issues. Others came out of curiosity, a couple of them concerned that they had received a letter in the first place. Chairing the meeting, Martin asked people what they hoped to get out of it – these were the most-mentioned:

  • Commitment to action: residents were keen to leave with the understanding that defined actions would be taken by the Council, the Police and other relevant agencies to improve quality of life in Westfield Road for all residents;
  • Information: some residents came out of curiosity and concern after receiving the letter from the neighbourhood police team.
  • Listening to residents: residents wanted the Council, the Police and other agencies to listen to them, as they felt that this did not always happen.
  • Neighbourliness and communication: residents wanted to be involved in activities to improve the quality of life on Westfield Road, and felt that a more neighbourly, communicative street would facilitate that.

Each of the representatives from the services and agencies present described their role and their powers, and throughout the meeting we collected the actions that each were committed to. Once the minutes are approved, I can summarise some of those, but much of them related to sharing contact information, commitment to sharing intelligence on issues around Westfield Road in order to take action where needed and supporting the residents in setting up a residents association should they choose to take that route.

 

Standing with the oppressed

A lot of people have emailed me this week to express a view over whether the Council House should fly the Palestinian flag over Council House. The Council responded fairly quickly to explain that they have quite strict protocols relating to what flags can be raised and when. But I understand why people don’t think that that is a good enough answer in itself – citizens want ways to demonstrate their feelings on the appalling loss of life and liberty, and want to know that their Council is listening and supports them.

When the West Midlands Friends of Israel wrote to me, I drafted a response to them – which summed up my position:

My position is quite clear on this: I support anyone who stands for life and liberty over fear and death (in word as well as deed), and find the Israel vs. Palestine framing of the conflict to be unhelpful in that regard.

I condemn the attrition of rights and lands from Palestinian people, both for its own sake as a violation of their human rights and the fact that it puts Israeli civilians in danger for as long as it prevails. Watching young Israelis in the army die in a conflict that has a clear, if difficult path to resolution seems to me to be deeply unjust.

Furthermore, I absolutely condemn the murder of hundreds of Palestinian civilians in this latest conflict – as I condemn indiscriminate rocket attacks on Israel. Life is life and death is death – and hundreds of lives are being lost unjustly, and disproportionately from Palestinian people. I’m afraid I do not accept the human shields argument. Gaza is a very small place, and even Hamas terrorists live in houses. If someone was firing rockets from a street in Kings Heath – or simply lived there and fired rockets from elsewhere – I would not accept the destruction of scores of nearby residents to take out that person. I cannot in good conscience place less value on lives in Palestine and Israel.

I appreciate how sensitive this issue is – but ultimately, Palestine does not equal Hamas, and I support anyone who wants to stand up for civilians who are suffering and dying in a conflict that they did not create. I am not sure whether flying the Palestinian flag achieves that, as I suspect that the good intentions of showing solidarity would be interpreted rather differently, and reinforces the Israel vs. Palestine narrative which is not conducive to ending conflict. However, I would support flying the Council flag at half mast, as I think this better echoes our horror at the loss of life and commitment to life and liberty for all.

Since then, Councillor Mariam Khan organised a series of silent protests at Council House, and there have been further protests today. It can be hard to know what to do at local government level in the UK – particularly when the actions of the UN and US matter more than anything in ending this conflict. But supporting peaceful protest and nurturing a city where citizens are Brummies regardless of ethnicity or faith are both incredibly important nonetheless.

 

Eid Mela: a new challenge

I’m discovering that short notice is part and parcel of life at the Council – so it was lucky that when I found out that I had been put on the Eid Mela steering committee on Wednesday morning, I was free to attend the meeting in the early evening! I am pleased though – it feels good to be able to do something practical and positive for Muslim residents in the ward (and indeed, anyone else who fancies popping along). Councillor Zafar Iqbal is the new Chair, and I am really pleased to be on a committee with him – he’s a Councillor in South Yardley, and I have always admired him for his diligence and decency. At this stage, we are so close to the event that there is not a lot left for me to be able to influence: so my priorities is that Muslims across Birmingham can have a wonderful celebration in Cannon Hill Park, whilst ensuring that traffic, parking and the post-event cleanup are managed effectively.

So if you’re free on Sunday 17th August, come along! It should be great fun.

 

If you have any questions about what any of us are doing – or would like more details on something I have written – you can find our contact details here.

50 Night Bus Service Launched

Moseley and Kings Heath Councillors at Bus StopNational Express West Midlands has announced that from the 20 July they will be running an ‘extended service’ which will mean buses running through the night.

The last normal 50 service will be run from Druids Heath at 11.33pm and the City Centre at 12.08am. The first night service will leave Moor Street by Selfridges at 1.03am and will run at three minutes past the hour until 4.03am. There will then be buses at 4.35, 5.05, 5.35, 5.50, 6.00, 6.10 and 6.20 when a normal daytime service will resume.

Buses will be run to Maypole rather than Druids Heath and the journeys into the City Centre will be at 29 minutes past the hour. The fares will be the same as during the daytime and bus passes will be valid. The timetables should be published soon.

This is very good news both in terms of an additional service but also in providing an inexpensive means for people to get home. The Council has regularly run campaigns warning people of the dangers of using unlicensed mini cabs. If people are struggling to find a way home they will know that there are regular night buses with the normal safety features.

In other good news there are to be improvements to the 50 Service bus stop outside Selfridges. The canopy is to be extended and the seating will be improved. Selfridges have not been keen on having shelters outside the store but Labour Councillor Kath Hartley has been pressing on the Passanger Transport Authority for provision to be made and the additional provision for the 50 service is very welcome.

Claire Spencer’s Acceptance Speech from Polling Day

Following on from Claire’s post yesterday, we have added a clip of her acceptance speech to YouTube.

 

 

Moseley & Kings Heath votes Labour: thank you

by Claire Spencer

As you probably already know by now, I was returned as the new Labour & Co-operative councillor for Moseley & Kings Heath early on Friday morning. Also, Labour polled the most votes in Moseley & Kings Heath at European level:

Local
Claire Spencer (LAB & CO-OP) 3099
Ernie Hendricks (LD) 1963
Elly Stanton (GRN) 768
Amil Khan (CON) 623
Alan Blumenthal (UKIP) 494
Michael Friel (TUSC) 110

Europe
Labour: 3114
Green: 1141
Conservatives: 924
Lib Dems: 873
UKIP: 680

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A very sleepy Moseley & Kings Heath Labour team at about 2:30am, Friday morning

In my acceptance speech, I said a few things that I would like to say again – probably with more eloquence now that I have caught up on my sleep! Firstly, I wanted to pay tribute to former Councillor Ernie Hendricks. We did not agree on everything: but he is someone who works hard, loves his neighbourhood and left a positive impression of politics and Birmingham City Council on people he worked with. Those qualities do not fall down party lines, and having more than one candidate who can offer that gives people a chance to cast a vote based on vision, based on ideas. I have a lot of respect for him, and am sure that his next steps will be positive ones.

I also wanted to pay tribute to the hundreds of Labour Party members and supporters locally who made this happen. It sounds like a cliché, but this was truly a team effort. From my agent Martin, to the wonderful, endlessly patient campaign team who brought so much experience, time and insight to shaping our activities, to each and every one of you who delivered leaflets, listened to voters and convinced your friends and family to vote Labour. You did this, and it is now our job to be part of a Birmingham that listens, reduces inequality and nurtures the public services that make a difference.

We have a mountain to climb in the next 12 months. The issues that made me want to stand for local government have not gone away. Tory cuts are threatening our services and local resources. Our Childrens Services are still leaving children across the city at risk. And the combination of the Bedroom Tax, a lack of homes and wider welfare reforms are robbing people of the peace and stability they need to lead contented lives.

And while this rages on, UKIP are turning people who emigrate and settle here into scapegoats for problems in society that they simply are not responsible for. I am the daughter of a woman who moved here from Iraq, who set up her own business and contributes to society and her local community. She speaks English, she speaks Soureth, she speaks Arabic. Sometimes she cooks kubbeh, sometimes she cooks a roast with all the trimmings. She is the embodiment of multi-cultural Britain. I live in a community which is beautiful and vibrant because it is made up of people who love living here. I will not allow UKIP to perpetuate the untruth that this is wrong, that this is hurting us. If an employer pays migrant workers less than minimum wage, stopping people living here from doing those jobs: I blame the employer, not the people looking for work. If we have not provided the opportunities for local people to develop the skills they need to get a job where they live, or to find a home where work is, then I blame government. And if we have removed decision-making so far away from people that it doesn’t matter if it takes place in Birmingham, London or Strasbourg, that is what we must fix.

We have a lot to do. But we can do it, and knowing that Moseley & Kings Heath is with us means more to me than you will ever know.

Celebrating Our Roots for May Day

Labour Candidate Claire Spencer

Labour Council Candidate, Claire Spencer

Moseley and Kings Heath Labour Party held what is becoming its annual May Day Party on Friday. May Day is technically 1st May although thanks to Michael Foot, UK workers (mostly) get to put their feet up on the first Monday in May. It is used to celebrate the achievements of working people around the world, a day of solidarity and so it is right and proper that we get together then. 200 years ago working people had very few rights and most of the rights secured have been hard won. Many need defending now more than ever.

The evening started off with Band for Glory, a local skiffle band, a music that has honourably radical roots. Jack Dromey MP, straight from the Birmingham Labour Group manifesto launch, spoke about the importance of the link between the Labour Party and trade unions. He said that working people had two routes to securing power, through the ballot box and by joining a trade union. Jack, when he was a trade union leader, had been involved in the campaign for a living wage in London. He pointed out that trade unions had been central to that campaign but then it was Labour councils like Birmingham that were crucial to making it a reality for thousands of people.

At the national launch of the Labour campaign for the May 22nd elections Ed Miliband announced a commitment to delivering a new framework for private rented tenants. Jack said that it was only a Labour Government in partnership with Labour Councils that will solve the housing crisis. Making private renting more secure and fair will be coupled with a new programme of building thousands of

Jack Dromey MP

Jack Dromey MP

new homes. Jack said that it was only Labour who were standing up for the people of Birmingham in tough times imposed by the Tory-Lib Dem Coalition and it is only Labour who would tackle the cost of living crisis.

The elections this month see both local and European elections. We were joined by Neena Gill, Sion Simon and Lynda Waltho who are all candidates on the 22nd. Neena said that May Day was all about solidarity. In the European elections we are faced with a range of parties who would throw away the peace and prosperity that European unity has brought us since the Second World War. Parties like UKIP want to create division and the Tories are pandering to UKIP’s agenda instead of confronting it.

Sion Simon said that what motivated him in politics was the drive to eliminate inequality. On doorsteps across the West Midlands what he was hearing was that inequality was growing due to the policies of the Coalition Government. The Labour Party’s mission to end inequality was a battle that would never end. If we let up on our efforts then the Tories and their allies dismantle what we have achieved.

We finally heard from Claire Spencer, our candidate for the Moseley and Kings Heath Council seat this month. Claire talked about the importance of forming a partnership with local communities, listening to people and respecting their place in the political process. She said that she never thought that she would be living in a society where food banks are such a feature. It was vital that we win on 22nd May and build a momentum to ensure a Labour Government in a year’s time. If the Tories win communities in Moseley and across Birmingham and beyond will face a bleak future.

At the end of the evening an auction raised £70 for Sparkhill Foodbank. If you are interested in joining the Labour Party there is more information here. If you have any questions about the local or European elections please get in touch.

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