July 29, 2015
If Sutton Coldfield can do it…
Throughout all the discussions over the past couple of years about community empowerment and the debates as to what should be in and what should be left out of the Bill, the elephant in the room has been what to do about our missing tier of local democracy. The residents of Sutton Coldfield have just voted to establish a new Town Council, taking on powers previously vested with Birmingham City Council. The new Town Council will raise income through a local tax and deliver local services. Why can’t that happen here?
Sutton Coldfield will have a new Town Council with powers handed down from Birmingham following a huge referendum yes vote.
Almost 70 per cent of those who voted in the postal referendum chose to set up a directly elected Town Council with greater independence from Birmingham.
There was a strong turnout of 39.6 per cent of residents in the Royal Town, which is higher than in many local elections.
And now Birmingham City Council bosses have agreed that they will vote to legally establish the new organisation in September and agree a timetable for elections and the handover of responsibilities.
And council leader Sir Albert Bore said that the implications could be far reaching if other parts of the city decided they too want to have their own local councils.
A Town Council, will take on responsibility for a range of local services and charge households an average of about £50 per year on their council tax to run them. Birmingham will retain powers over major policy areas such as transport, planning, social care and housing – although the new council can be consulted over policy.
While critics have said that the new Council will be costly and only have responsbility for parks, community centres and litter collections, campaigners say the huge show of support means there is a strong case for more powers or influence, such as over planning applications, to be passed on from Birmingham City Council.
Campaigner Ken Rushton, who chairs the group which raised a 10,000 name petition and triggered th e vote, said: “We’re very pleased with the show of support. It is a clear sign from residents that they want to see change in the way our town is run.
“The reason we wanted this is that Sutton Coldfield is not getting any funding and have decided that we will have to do ourselves.”
He called on everyone with an interest in supporting Sutton Coldfield to help them get on with setting up the Town Council and making it work.
Chairman of the Sutton Town Council Referendum Group Ken Rushton (fourth left) and Coun Rob Pocock (third left) who is supporting campaign
Birmingham council leader Sir Albert Bore (Lab, Ladywood) said: “This is a clear cut result and the turnout in the ballot was fairly high. That decision could have an impact beyond Sutton Coldfield.”
He added that with other constitutional changes underway in the wake of last year’s Kerslake review of the council ‘this is a watershed moment in the way that Birmingham is governed’.
Chairman of the council’s Sutton Coldfield district committee Anne Underwood (Con, Sutton Four Oaks) said: “We are delighted with the turnout of 70 per cent at the ballot that reflects the interest our residents have always shown in the governance of the Royal Town. The result is a resounding Yes and we would assure residents that we will support its establishment and take an active part in ensuring that it makes a difference for the residents of Sutton Coldfield.”
And Lib Dem group leader Paul Tilsley (Sheldon) said he hoped residents in other neighbourhoods and districts might also consider town councils. “The ballot showed conclusively that the residents want devolved local democracy and are prepared to contribute £1 per week for the creation of the Town Council.”
Number of eligible voters – 75,431
Total number of votes cast – 29,908
Turnout – 39.6%
Number of votes found to be invalid – 57
Total number of valid votes counted – 29,851
Number voting YES – 20,871 (69.9%)
Number voting NO – 8,980 (30.1%)