A Town Council for Sutton Coldfield?

10th February 2014

The prospect of a meaningful Town Council for Sutton Coldfield should be an exciting and attractive option for us all and must be fully explored.

Thanks to Conservative inspired new rules and legislation it is now possible for these issues to be looked at and determined in a consultation which could take place as early as 22 May 2014.

That would be an opportunity for all of us locally to express a view.

My purpose as Sutton’s MP in writing in the Observer today is not to pre-judge negotiations that will now take place but put before my constituents the facts and to lay out a road map ahead of any decisions we are invited to make.

Suttonians have long been proud of our history and heritage and resented the decision to abolish our local District Council in 1974 putting us into Birmingham City Council – at least for local government purposes. In every other way, of course, we remain an ancient Royal Town with a proud history and local organisations for almost every enthusiasm and entertainment one can imagine.

A Town Council could give to Sutton powers that we would far rather exercise locally, and accountably, in Sutton Coldfield. But it will be important to look at the small print.

Above all we should ask 2 questions:
“What new and meaningful powers are we to have” and secondly “what will it cost us in additional payments each year”.

Once we have clear answers to that – and only then – will we be able to make up our minds.

The Birmingham City Council has set up a Governance Committee to consider this matter. It will consist of 4 Labour Councillors, 2 Conservative Councillors and 1 Liberal Democrat Councillor. It is this Committee which will discuss what a Town Council might look like, how to consult and whether or not to hold a referendum. By definition Sutton’s Councillors will not be in a majority on this Committee, but Sutton’s lead Councillor, the experienced Anne Underwood, will be there. She has already made clear what she believes the parameters should be. “If once the facts are laid out I feel that a Town Council will improve services for Sutton residents without huge additional costs, I will support it. If I feel it would be an expensive talking shop with no genuine powers or an ability to make a difference locally then I will not”.

I know all too well as your Member of Parliament that Suttonians care deeply about local issues such as planning and the environment, education, road maintenance and effective refuse collection. The question is will we have power over these local issues? Will those powers be real and will they deliver best value for the money we are paying?

So costs and powers are the key.

Once we have the answers we will be able to make an informed decision. A talking shop with yet more costly politicians would not be attractive to the vast majority of my constituents but a Council that is truly accountable locally for cost and delivery could be immensely attractive.

Finally, I want to congratulate all those involved in getting us to this point. Now it is time for all of Sutton to decide.