Brazen Gove accuses Birmingham council leaders of causing harm

Commentary Opinion

If the latest poll is to be believed, almost 90% of voters will have heard comments by Michael Gove comments about appointing commissioners to run bankrupted Birmingham City Council and wished it was as easy to replace the government.

Birmingham city council – the biggest local authority in Europe with 101 councillors – effectively declared itself bankrupt earlier this month when it filed a section 114 notice. The Labour run council faces severe financial difficulties from an equal pay liability estimated at around £1 billion, massive gaps in its budget (c. £87 million) and a £100 million bill to fix its dodgy new IT system. Issuing a section 114 notice immediately stops all new spending, apart from that on statutory services and protecting vulnerable people.

In a blistering statement to the Commons, secretary of state for levelling up and communities Gove accused the leaders of Birmingham council of failing residents and announced he is launching an inquiry into how “Birmingham got to this position and options for how it can become a sustainable council moving forward”.

Listening to Gove one could not help but be struck by how the words ‘Birmingham’, and ‘council’ could so easily be swapped for ‘Britain’ and ‘government’ given the parlous state of the nation after 13 years of Tory rule.

He continued: “For years now the city has suffered as the council has failed to grip underperformance. Poor leadership, weak governance, woeful mismanagement of employee relations and ineffective service delivery have harmed the city.”

While the apparent lack of any self awareness is astonishing, the brazenness of the senior Tory is completely expected. Gove has been a key figure in government since 2010 yet spoke in the Commons without a hint of irony. Each point he made about why he is appointing commissioners to run the city are all charges his own government is guilty of. And much, much more.

For 13 years this country has suffered by the failure of successive Conservative governments to get a grip of underperformance in each and every sector of which it is in charge. Poor leadership from the outset led directly to Brexit. The consequent chaos at the heart of government is epitomised by the number of prime ministers failing in Downing Street. Their weak governance has damaged Britain’s social fabric and its international standing beyond measure.

Gove spoke of the “woeful mismanagement of employee relations” on the very day NHS consultants held the first of their latest stint of two-day strikes. They will be joined on picket lines by junior doctors tomorrow (September 20) – another unprecedented, historic first for the National Health Service.

As everyone knows, it’s not just doctors who have been striking. Almost every public sector that can take industrial action has done so. Yes, they want better pay having suffered real-terms pay-cut after pay-cut, year after year. But they – teachers, nurses, train drivers, bin men, civil servants, university lecturers, doctors, barristers, bus drivers, Tube staff, ambulance workers, paramedics and more – have all taken industrial action to seek better conditions and safer working environments. For themselves and for the people they look after.

Because, and to use Gove’s own words, “ineffective service delivery” – after a decade of austerity – has “harmed the city”, the country, the nation.

When Gove told MPs “the residents and businesses in Birmingham deserve better” he was pretty much summing up what the country thinks of the government he is such a key part of.

According to Ipsos’ latest politcal monitor polling report [pdf/download] almost 90% of voters – including 65% of Conservative voters – think Britain needs a fresh team of leaders.

Even bleaker for the Conservatives is the belief, from the same poll, that things are even worse now under Rishi Sunak than the disgraced liar Boris Johnson, with the current PM’s government viewed as less competent than his predecessors.

Bleaker for the country is the increasing probability that Sunak will hold on until he absolutely has to call a general election, the latest date being the end of January 2025 signalling another 16 months of rot, division and, as Gove put it when speaking about Birmingham, “harm” to the country.

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