community

What’s next for cycling in Moseley & Kings Heath?

by Claire Spencer

A few weeks ago, Birmingham found out that it had been successful in obtaining a £17m grant from the Department for Transport’s ‘Cycle City Ambition’ fund. Combined with a further £7m of match-funding from Birmingham City Council, we have just over £24m to invest over the next two years. I firmly believe that a city that is better for cyclists is better for everyone, and having read the bid, I really wanted to share it with people locally. So I popped over to see Councillor James McKay (Cabinet Member for a Green, Safe & Smart City) during a lunchbreak, and asked him a few questions:

 

 

Moseley & Kings Heath falls under the South Quadrant part of the bid – but will also benefit from links to the city centre and other areas of the city being improved. I’ve pulled together a few key pages from the full bid into a pdf which you can read here.

You can also read the full bid here, but in brief, the intention is to achieve four key outcomes in our part of the city (which also includes Sparkbrook, Springfield, Selly Oak and Edgbaston):

  1. An increase in the number of people cycling to school;
  2. Rising numbers of people cycling to work;
  3. Improved perceptions of cycling safety;
  4. A reduction in child obesity levels in the more deprived areas;

There are a few things that I’d like to highlight. As James pointed out, the introduction of 20mph zones is likely to be well-received locally, given that there have been several campaigns on that recently, as well as being a prominent part of the Moseley Big Plan. The mix of main routes for confident cyclists and quieter routes for learners/less frequent cyclists will give people the chance to build their confidence – and clearer signage will help motorists to drive with cyclists in mind. And the potential for further ‘cycle hubs’ after the pilot in Selly Oak could put Moseley & Kings Heath in a good place to push for one here.

I am a timid cyclist, but did make an effort a couple of years ago to replace more of my short journeys (which I tend to do on foot) around Moseley & Kings Heath with cycling, as well as making better use of the Rea Valley route. Admittedly, this only lasted until my bike got stolen, but in that time, I had built up a bit of confidence, but still got off my bike and walked when it came to busy junctions, or bridging gaps between local cycle routes. Connecting existing cycle routes, clearer markings and slower cars will make it that bit easier to build confidence, and to create spaces on our streets where cyclists have a more equal relationship with other road users.

I’m (slowly) saving up for a bike at the moment, so as the improvements are implemented, I hope to try out a few more routes and see how I get on. Let me know if you do too.

Labour’s Bob Jones elected as West Midlands Police & Crime Commissioner

by John Chapman

On 15th November Labour’s Bob Jones was elected Police and Crime Commissioner for our Police Force, and has already kept one of his key campaign promises by vetoing plans to privatise core policing functions.

We know that many electors were unhappy at the way these new posts were bulldozed through Parliament by the Tories and LibDems: it came up again and again on the doorstep, and many Labour members felt exactly the same. But we needed the best candidate to be elected, and the voters duly voted overwhelmingly for Bob.

Interestingly, in Moseley and Kings Heath, Bob Jones took 77.7% of the votes on the second ballot, easily outstripping the Conservative candidate’s 22.3%. The Liberal Democrat candidate had been eliminated in the first ballot, coming in fifth, with just 7.5% of the vote.

PCC Bob Jones (photo by Coventry Telegraph)

We know Bob will serve the region well, and your involvement is key to ensuring that. He will be doing surgeries and public events around the region, as well as being generally contactable in the usual way. All details are here.

So from all of us at Moseley & Kings Heath Labour Party: THANK YOU for electing Bob Jones.

Devolution in practice: why more public meetings ≠ more influence

by Claire Spencer

This admission will surprise no-one who has met me, but I am quite a fan of public meetings. I like it when people get together to share ideas, question received wisdom and debate in an open space. I like it that you can never quite anticipate who will come, or what they will say. And I certainly like it when decision-makers have to develop, discuss and explain their decisions with people affected by those decisions. Public meetings are a crucial element of democracy and (certainly as far as public institutions and agencies are concerned) need to be part of an overall, ongoing consultation strategy.

But not all public meetings give the public that opportunity to shape or interrogate decisions. When I worked at Chamberlain Forum, we produced a report into public sector consultation called ‘Are you being heard?‘, following a cross-sector research project. One thing that became clear was:

…that the insights of both residents and local public services may be ignored because decisions have already been made at a higher level, removed from the locality they will affect.

One example sticks in my mind particularly clearly. A couple of years ago, those assembled at that month’s Moseley & Kings Heath Ward Committee meeting were told by the Chair that the Safer Birmingham Partnership was offering money (£100,000 + contribution to the running costs) to install CCTV in the centre of Moseley – in response to antisocial behaviour issues in the area. The community was to be consulted on the locations of the cameras. One gentleman asked whether the money might be spent on youth services instead. Others agreed, why not spend the money on more preventative measures?

But the decision had been made. The community could decide whether to have the CCTV or not, and where it would go…but they were not part of the strategic decision-making process around crime and antisocial behaviour, or even present during a conversation where that strategy was being developed.

This situation didn’t arise due to a lack of public meetings. Rather, the substance of the decision had already been made by central and local government before it got to the public. There could have been 3, 5, 10 public meetings and it wouldn’t have changed a thing – the choice was CCTV, or no CCTV.

As such, Birmingham Labour’s localisation and devolution proposals do not seek to give local people more public meetings – they seek to give people more power to influence decisions that affect them by bringing those decisions to District (constituency*) level. Decisions about housing, youth services, community and play services, libraries, community safety, neighbourhood offices, sport and leisure services, refuse collection and street cleansing, highways services and environmental wardens are all made at District Level under Labour’s plans.

How much of a difference would this have made to my earlier example? There are a couple of things. Firstly, the ability to influence housing, community safety, youth services, sport and leisure services and environmental wardens would have given the community more scope to shape preventative approaches to crime and antisocial behaviour from the start. Secondly, a closer relationship between those services and local people would have made earlier involvement of the community in exploring CCTV as part of a response to crime and ASB more likely.

I prefer Labour’s system – different areas have somewhat different needs and priorities, and should be able to reflect those needs and priorities in the services they commission. But under both the old and the new systems, there is a crucial element which determines the success or failure of involvement and local influence – a culture of listening and communicating within Birmingham City Council (extending from officers and councillors and extending to contractors and delivery partners). If decision-makers do not listen when people speak to them, or do not provide adequate mechanisms for conversations to occur, all the advantages of devolution – engineered co-production, tailored services, community buy-in – are lost.

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In a somewhat roundabout fashion, this brings me to the reason for writing this. Some people were unhappy at one part of Labour’s localisation and devolution proposals – namely that District (formerly Constituency) Committees would a) be based in the city centre and b) no longer allow members of the  public to speak. They felt that this amounted to slicing their influence in half.

My argument, based on the above, is that shortening the distance between people and decision-makers, and the culture of listening and communicating, is far more important. In my experience as a community activist, the most meaningful influence over local decision-making occurs via emails, conversations and community-organised meetings and events. If decision-makers are serious about engagement, they will use a multitude of tools and structures to listen.

But I do have some sympathy for those who are worried. After all, trust in systems, in people, has to be earned. Ultimately, the District Committees have the power to meet where they like – and some have already started to exercise that power. If the expenses of meeting locally are significant, or if extra meetings have to be held, then those committees will have to demonstrate that the benefits of holding the meeting locally justifies the expenditure. Conversely, those that hold meetings centrally will want to consider whether they are getting value from that arrangement. Time and practice will tell.

 

 

*the distinction between District and Constituency has been questioned by a few people that I have spoken to. The Districts align with the current parliamentary constituencies. When the boundaries of the parliamentary constituencies change (one proposal is that Moseley & Kings Heath and Sparkbrook join Selly Oak and Edgbaston to make a new Birmingham Edgbaston constituency), the Districts will not change with them. This is to ensure that the City Council escapes from service delivery complications arising from wards outside of the Birmingham local authority area (such as Castle Bromwich) becoming part of Birmingham parliamentary constituencies.

 

Community conference: Our Public Services – the future?

by Lisa Trickett

What happens in public services in the coming years will affect us all, whether we use public services or work in the public sector. It is really important to me, as Labour’s candidate for Moseley & Kings Heath, that local people are involved in the decisions that affect their lives.

So on the 17th November, Shadow Housing Minister Jack Dromey will be joining us to discuss how public services can best be protected from Government cuts and also what we want from public services in the future to meet the needs of everyone. Joining him will be Cllr John Cotton who is the Labour Group lead on devolution of public services.

This is an important opportunity for us to explore, with people who will be shaping policy nationally and locally, how we as a local Labour Party branch can make a difference to the public services around us.

The meeting starts at 7pm at the Moseley Exchange building in Moseley.

Please come to the meeting if you can. Also please forward this to friends and colleagues who may be interested or share the event on share/invite friends to the Facebook event.

I look forward to seeing you.

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Newsletter: Where are our trains?

The members of the Moseley & Kings Heath Labour are unanimous in their support of reopening the Moseley & Kings Heath railways stations – but we were surprised at the strength of feeling during the local elections.

As such, Councillor Martin Straker-Welds, now joined by our 2012 candidate Lisa Trickett, have been investigating some practical ways to make this a higher priority among decision-makers. This has been touched on in a recent blog post, but we have produced a simplified version for a leaflet, which will be distributed across Moseley & Kings Heath ward in the coming weeks.

The leaflet also introduces Lisa, who has now been running street surgeries with Martin Straker-Welds for several weeks now. If you would like Lisa and Martin to come to your street, or to run a surgery at your organisation, please leave a comment below, or email us on mkhlabour@gmail.com.

If you would like to see the leaflet, we have uploaded it here.

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