19 May 2023 – Message from Councillor Ian Courts, Leader of Solihull Council
This Tuesday saw the appointment for the municipal year of the new Mayor of Solihull, Councillor Diana Holl-Allen MBE at the Annual Council meeting known as Mayor-making. This meeting takes place after the local elections every year. It also includes the confirmation of all the Cabinet and Committee positions. We all gave her our best wishes and gave our thanks to the outgoing Mayor Councillor Ken Meeson for his service, which was unexpectedly extended to two years due to the aftermath of Covid.
Most of the Cabinet appointments remained the same, however, two vacancies were filled, with Councillor Wazma Qais (Silhill), taking over the Communities and Leisure responsibility from Diane Howell, who stepped down at the election. I have also created a new cabinet role, focused entirely on housing, and asked Councillor Mark Parker (Shirley East) to take on that brief. Housing is of critical importance to the country and to our borough, as we aim to tackle important issues like homelessness, the Council’s housing stock, and housing safety; Local Plan responsibility remains with Cllr Mackiewicz.
I wish Wazma and Mark every good luck in their new roles and know that they will bring that extra blend of enthusiasm and experience that we need in each of these two areas of council work.
I have asked the Deputy Leader of the Council, Cllr Karen Grinsell, to take on a new responsibility as lead member for Corporate Parenting. As a local authority, when it comes to children in care and care experienced young people, we have the same duties and responsibilities as parents and need to be as ambitious for these young people as any parent. In practice, it means looking for opportunities to help them in life and asking ourselves at every stage – “is this the best we can do for these young people?”.
I wanted to ensure that we had sufficient member resource covering this area, bearing in mind the significant workload for Children’s Services which Cllr Michael Gough is already leading on. I know that Corporate Parenting is also something Councillor Grinsell is passionate about, and not something she will ever allow to be anything less than top of the agenda. This week we have also launched our recruitment process for the role of permanent chief executive - https://solihull-ceo.co.uk/
It’s important that we try to make clear to our residents who is making the decisions that impact their lives and what underlines so much of the work we do as a council. Over the next weeks and months, I’ll introduce each of the Cabinet Members and explain a little bit about their positions as bits of news related to their work crop up. We have a strong team in Solihull and many years of experience serving us.
At the weekend I was privileged to attend a Langar (community meal) at the Council’s Civic Suite. The event paid tribute to the 1.5 million Sikh volunteers in the Indian Army who fought alongside the British military during the two World Wars and honoured the 83,000 soldiers who gave their lives during the conflicts.
Food was prepared and served by volunteers from Guru Gobind Singh Gurdwara in Balsall Heath, Birmingham – the oldest Sikh temple in the West Midlands. During the event Captain Jay Singh Sohal VR thanked the council for our work with a presentation of a limited-edition print by Shropshire artist Lisa Pitchford, of the Sikh soldier monument at the National Arboretum. The Royal British Legion also presented certificates of appreciation to Gobind Singh Gurdwara and Solihull Council.
Whilst the contribution of Commonwealth soldiers in the World Wars has all too often been overlooked, that is beginning to change. Last year, in conjunction with the RBL, we opened the Armed Forces Community Garden in Hillfield Park. That ceremony was attended by Sikh, Gurkha, and West Indian Armed Forces representatives. Events like this and the Langar acknowledge and commemorate the sacrifice made by their compatriots, and I hope to attend more in future. You can read more about the Langar here.
At Cabinet last night we took forward our new ‘Solihull Economic Strategy’. This bold and ambitious strategy has been developed in conjunction with our partners and key stakeholders across the borough and looks at how we can deliver continued and improved economic growth. It sets out our economic ambitions and priorities for the next ten years.
Solihull drives the West Midlands’ economy, and the significance of this role is only set to increase over the next decade with the arrival of the HS2 Interchange station and further investment planned around UK Central. Our economy already supports more than 151,000 jobs and generates more than £9.32bn of output following sustained growth over the last decade. However, we know our borough also faces challenges.
Whilst we have succeeded in creating jobs, some of our people struggle to access them – and this mismatch is something we’re addressing. It’s also essential we uphold our commitments to tackling climate change and safeguarding our environment while pursuing economic growth. Our new economic strategy seeks to tackle these challenges and maximise future opportunities for Solihull.
The ambitions, priorities, and actions set out in our new Strategy and accompanying Delivery Plan provide an exciting, fair and achievable road-map for continued borough-wide economic growth over the next decade. As soon as the full text of the Strategy is officially confirmed, I’ll share a link in a future edition of this message.
There was quite a lot of news about Birmingham Airport this last week, including a rather sensationalised headline about delays. I’m proud of our airport, and we should stand up for it when stories like this are written. When you look at the detail, they were one minute or so worse than another regional airport and a few minutes worse than the London airports. The average time to clear security (10 minutes) is well ahead of targets, as are times for baggage reclaim. Passenger numbers have climbed above what we were seeing pre-pandemic, and staffing is only just returning to normal levels.
New security and baggage handling systems that will bring further improvements are due for completion this year and next year respectively. The security upgrade brings with it the welcome news for passengers that the 100ml liquid limit will be scrapped – no more tipping things out or peering at toothpaste tubes to make sure the one you’ve brought is small enough.
There’s also a human element, without the people that run it, an airport is only a collection of buildings and a (very large) strip of tarmac. I was present one night a week or so ago to see the care, compassion, and efficiency with which the staff dealt with the arrival of Sudanese refugees fleeing the dreadful conflict enveloping their country. Those are the kind of things that really matter.
As I write this message, more good news is filtering through for the airport. Easyjet have announced they will be opening a new base at BHX. This will bring 100 jobs directly and supporting around 1200. It will mean more destinations for passengers to enjoy (providing, of course, they can stomach the painful extra 1-minute average delay) as well as making our borough even more of a hub than it already is for travellers arriving into the UK.
Last week I went to Saqib Bhatti MP’s Careers Fair at Solihull College’s Woodlands Campus in Smith’s Wood. It was a great event, and a wonderful chance to meet employers who are offering excellent employment opportunities to local people. One of the many I was pleased to meet was the Brandwood Centre, a community organisation based not far from us in Kings Heath, Birmingham. They offer training and support to people in the Greater Birmingham and Solihull area who are over the age of 19 and not in employment, education, or training. You can read all about their work and upcoming training opportunities on their website. If you or someone you know is looking for that kind of chance, or just some help and advice on your CV or applying for work, then please do take a look at what they have to offer.
I hope you all have an excellent weekend, especially as after what seems like months of rainy Saturdays and Sundays there’s a significant threat of sunshine to enjoy!
Councillor Ian Courts, Leader of Solihull Council