Over the last three weeks I have reported back on some very good news in respect of the first three of my four priorities for our Town.
To recap: - there is excellent news on our Town Hall with new money for its redevelopment. On our cottage hospital, there is a clear funded plan to deliver our vision for strong support for older people, and especially enabling my constituents to stay in their own homes.
Thirdly and most important of all, there is significant progress on the redevelopment of our Town centre, with further financial support from our regional Mayor Andy Street. As we move towards work beginning there will, of course, be detailed consultation, as we deliver the Town Centre Master Plan being driven by the Royal Sutton Coldfield Town Council and its leader Simon Ward.
However, this week I want to turn to the fourth of my priorities, Our Sutton Park, where progress is negligible and in my view Birmingham City Council have behaved extremely badly - and unwisely.
Some years ago, when it was clear the City Council did not have the money to make the investment necessary in our Park, I agreed with Birmingham’s then Leader that we would investigate a new Trust arrangement for its ownership. This Trust would bring together our interests in the Royal Town and a national park or forestry body with the expertise, and importantly the money, to provide the funding that the Park badly needed.
Following further discussion, we agreed that a “three-legged trust” should be created, which would add the City Council, as it inherited our historic park in the 1974 local government changes, when Sutton became part of the Birmingham.
This would provide a robust body to control our Park, including vital local control right here in Sutton. I personally spoke to our brilliant Park Rangers to reassure them that this would be a very bright future. Our Town Council commissioned expert consultants and research to set out how this new arrangement would work. The future of the Park looked set.
However, since then, despite repeated chasing, there has been nothing but obfuscation by Birmingham City Council. This culminated in an insulting and slapdash note to the Leader of the Town Council by the relevant councillor with “responsibility” for our Park, turning any progress down and insultingly inviting us to join with him in thinking about our Royal Town’s 500th anniversary in 2028!
I had previously complained to the leader of the City Council about this lack of respect for Sutton Coldfield - strongly supported by our Sutton Coldfield conservative city councillors. Because of the failure by Birmingham politicians to grip this issue, their officers have not done the work required or engaged properly with our Town Council.
So, we now see laid bare the effect of Labour’s elected stewardship of Birmingham. They have not only bankrupted the council, they are sitting on our Park doing nothing. Even worse, they are stopping, by their incompetence and lethargy, anyone else from doing anything and bringing forward the change and investment this cherished Green space badly needs and all of us in the Town want.
But this is not over. Now that bankrupt Birmingham is in the hands of commissioners appointed by the government, I will be taking our case directly to them. I know how important Sutton Park is to residents of the Royal Town, and I am determined to ensure its safe future, with vital local control.
New floodlights for Boldmere Sports and Social Club
I was so pleased to hear the excellent news from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport(DCMS) that Boldmere Falcons Junior FC have just been awarded nearly £4,000 for new floodlights at Boldmere Sports and Social Club, as part of government funding for grassroots sports facilities across the UK.
I look forward to visiting them soon to celebrate.
Sutton Coldfield’s Libraries at risk of being closed
I am deeply alarmed to learn this week that three of our four libraries in Sutton Coldfield – in Boldmere, Mere Green, Walmley and the Town Centre – are at risk of closure because of Birmingham City Council’s disastrous financial situation.
It has been reported that the entire city's network of libraries is at risk after Birmingham City Council revealed it has to cut £300 million from its budget over two years.
If reports are correct, the council plans to turn 11 of the 36 venues into joint 'library and neighbourhood advice service hubs' - putting the other 25 under threat. It also means that dozens of jobs among librarians and support staff look set to go.
This is deeply disappointing news, as all of our libraries in the Royal Town are cherished, well-used community hubs.
It is also hugely frustrating because it need not have happened. This is down to financial mismanagement at Birmingham City Council, which is facing an equal pay claim of three quarters of a billion pounds, having failed to get a grasp on a problem which goes back years. As a result, they cannot balance their books, hence the council declaring effective bankruptcy last year, which has led to Commissioners being sent in to urgently sort the finances out.
Severe cuts to services such as libraries are inevitable because of this – never the mind the fact that residents face a potential total 21% overall Council Tax increase over the next two years, something that could mean roughly £400 a year on a Band D property’s bill by April 2025.
Fears over other cuts to come– to things like youth services and bin collections – remain.
So, what will happen to our libraries? It has been reported that just one council-run combined library and neighbourhood advice service is likely to stay open in each of the city's ten parliamentary constituencies, along with the Library of Birmingham. They will be rebranded as 'Community Living Rooms'. That would mean that just one of our libraries would remain open.
It is too easy to blame Birmingham’s woes on the Government – this is a problem unique to Birmingham, and a consequence of the council failing to deal with a problem that was only going to get worse.
Any proposals will no doubt be subject to consultation, and Sutton’s Conservative councillors stand ready to fight for the future of Sutton’s libraries, which are facing closure because of a problem entirely of Birmingham’s making.
Meanwhile your hardworking Conservative councillors on Birmingham City Council - strongly supported by the Conservatives on Royal Sutton Coldfield Town Council - are standing up for our local libraries and protesting these preposterous suggestions.
Here are Councillor Ken Woods views on this matter:
‘With Birmingham attempting to make £300m savings over two years and needing to make £500m of asset sales, libraries across Sutton Coldfield are at risk of closing.
Boldmere, Mere Green, Sutton Coldfield and Walmley are all in the spotlight. Let’s look at Walmley Library. Now what would make more sense than to close a well-used local library open three days a week, and in a building that already has a community hall in it? Yes, that is one possibility, with the libraries budget being cut by £2.3M and the potential for eleven of the current thirty six libraries to be converted into library and service hubs. Under these plans Sutton would be left with a single library - forcing residents to drive and travel some distance. Cllrs Ken Wood and David Barrie are currently fighting to retain the library in Walmley. This is not the first time it’s been under threat - the first time BCC had to back down after both the Councillors showed that their case was flawed. This time already over 500 people have signed their petition to show that this local resource is essential and supported. You can join them by going online to https://bit.ly/Save-WalmleyLibrary ‘
- Cllr Ken Wood, Walmley & Minworth
I very much welcome the launch of the Government’s Pharmacy First approach to cutting wait lists, where281 pharmacies across Birmingham and Solihull will be able to treat common health conditions without patients needing to see a GP. This will free up to 10million GP appointments a year as part of the Government’s Primary Care Recovery Plan.
This will help patients across the Royal Town to receive care more quickly through better use of our community pharmacies, without the need to visit the GP or have a prescription.
Above: when I visited the hard-working team at Vesey Pharmacy some time ago.
Staff Wellbeing Week at Fairfax Academy
A week-long event that was pioneered at Sutton’s Fairfax Academy has been rolled out to boost the wellbeing of staff at three other schools across Birmingham.
I regularly visit Fairfax (I was last there in November to open the school’s new Intervention Hub) and am always impressed by the innovative drive of the staff.
The annual Wellbeing Week, has been held each January for more than a decade, bringing together all kinds of supportive elements such as social get-togethers, fun exercise, financial advice and life coaching.
It proved so effective that now staff at schools across the Fairfax Multi Academy Trust (FMAT) also take part, with a schedule of activities also organised at Bournville School, Erdington Academy and Smith’s Wood Academy.
This year staff at Fairfax took part in a broad range of activities designed to promote wellness, self-care and unity.
Each day began with a daily wellbeing email being sent out, featuring motivational messages and updates on the day ahead. Throughout the week staff could book a 30-minute slot to see a professional life coach, or benefit from a financial signposting session to help connect with useful agencies.
The table in the staff room regularly groaned with cookies, pastries and hot chocolate, while staff could also share coffee and cake with Principal Sean Castle.
Physical wellbeing was catered for too – with high intensity interval training sessions, a five-aside football tournament and a sports social event, and staff could get in touch with their creative side through an art therapy session.
For the full story, click here: https://suttonschoollife.co.uk/2024/01/31/fairfax-academy-staff-wellbeing-week-sweet-treats-and-secret-saints/
Vesey Gardens and Town Centre flowerbeds
Please see below a message from Trinity ward Sutton Coldfield Councillor David Pears, who serves on both the Birmingham and Royal Town councils:
‘On Tuesday this week at the Town Council meeting we learnt at short notice, that due to the bankrupt policies on Birmingham Council, Vesey Gardens and the planters in the centre of our Town will not be maintained in the future. This means that none of the usual beautiful floral displays will be added this year.
I call this disgraceful given that we are trying to turn a page and usher in a new era in our Town Centre. What message does it send out when there are no floral displays just patches of mud!
A decision was needed by Friday to ensure a supply of plants. Following a full discussion, I was pleased that our Conservative Town Councillors agreed we should find a solution through the Town Council and a small budget to facilitate action so the florals can proceed.
For a number of years there have been discussions between Birmingham Council and Sutton Town Council to transfer Vesey Gardens as an asset to the Town Council, so I am hoping the asset transfer will take place sooner given the situation. Further I have asked for any other assets like the Town Centre planters/flowerbeds to be transferred before any further neglect occurs.
Just goes to show what the Administration of Birmingham thinks of our town and by contrast what our Caring Town Council can do’.
- Councillor David Pears
Westminster Supper Club
The much-missed Westminster Supper Club - a Royal Town Conservative dining club - is back in action having been a casualty of the COVID pandemic.
Our speaker for this comeback is Peter Shergold, a local author who will be sure to provide us with a phenomenally entertaining talk about the Home Guard protecting our Royal Town during the Second World War (who were arguably the inspiration for Dads Army!)
Please do join us at 7pm on Friday 1st March for a wonderful two course dinner and fantastic evening with local Conservative friends, supporters and neighbours.
Tickets will be reserved on a ‘first come first serve’ basis so if you would like to secure yours, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Statement on Israel and Palestine
On Monday I updated the House of Commons on the situation in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, which was followed by 46 questions from colleagues across the House.
If you would like to watch the session, click here:
Foreign office questions
On Tuesday I deputised for the Foreign Secretary during foreign office questions in the House of Commons. I answered questions from colleagues such as on debt reduction in the developing world, human rights in Eritrea, and the developments in the Middle East.
You can watch the full debate here: https://parliamentlive.tv/event/index/a5a55954-d8b4-4fb9-a025-a9ec4c3b989d
Ministerial Business in Ghana and Ethiopia
I have spent the last part of this week on ministerial business first in Ghana where I co-chaired the Ghana/British Business council - designed to boost business opportunities in both our countries - including of course in the West Midlands and Birmingham, and keeping in close touch with our regional mayor Andy Street who never misses an opportunity to bring business and investment to benefit West Midlands. Today and tomorrow, here in Ethiopia I will be drumming up business opportunities for our country but also travelling up country to Tigray where the very destructive war has caused such trouble and misery to people’s lives and where the humanitarian (starvation) challenges are very serious. Britain is determined to help the people - especially the children and women who are suffering so grievously - through our humanitarian work and aid and development programme.
Coffee Morning, St Columba’s Church Hall:
Holy Trinity Parish Church, A Night of Silent Film with Live Piano:
Saturday 3rd February 2024 at 7:30pm
Pianist Vincent Byrne takes us on a magical journey through early cinema where live piano accompanied silent film. The evening starts with a showing of Laurel & Hardy’s 1928short film “Big Business” followed by Charlie Chaplin’s original 1920 comedy classic “The Kid”.
In addition to regular silent film concerts around the UK, Vincent has performed as soloist with the Walsall Symphony Orchestra.
You can buy tickets here: https://webcollect.org.uk/fhtsc/event/dorothy-parker-takes-a-trip-1
Afternoon tea at The Cancer support Centre for St Giles Hospice:
ASLEF, the train drivers’ union, has announced strikes affecting Avanti West Coast on Saturday 3 February– part of a range of industrial action at multiple train companies between 30 January and 5 February:
M42 and M6 closure warning ahead of major HS2 works
The M42 between junction 6 and 9 will be temporarily closed in both directions:
• Overnight on week nights from 10pm – 5am between Monday 29 January 24 – Friday 9 February 24.
• For a full weekend from 9pm on Friday 9 February 24 until 5am on Monday 12 February 24.
Should you require more information about this closure please contact National Highways Customer Contact Centre on:
0300 123 5000 (local call rate), Or email: email@example.com
MMR immunisation and measles awareness
Measles is circulating in the West Midlands, and the MMR vaccination provides the best protection against measles.
Please be aware of measles symptoms: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/measles/
If you think you or your child may have measles, contact your GP practice but do not visit unless instructed, as measles can spread to others easily, and 1 in 15 children can develop serious complications, such as meningitis and blindness.
For protection against measles, contact your GP practice to get your MMR immunisations.
Learn more: https://bit.ly/46QPPn1
Please see below the visits scheduled for the week commencing 5th February of the BCC Mobile Household Recycling Centre.
· Mon 05/02/2024, Carhampton Road B75 7PQ, 07:00- 12:30, Sutton Reddicap
· Tue 06/02/2024, Hill Village Road B75 5HX, 07:00- 12:30, Sutton Mere Green
· Thu 08/02/2024, Rowallan Road B75 6RL, 07:00 - 12:30,Sutton Roughley
· Fri 09/02/2024, Ashdene Close B73 6HL,07:00 - 12:30,Sutton Trinity