Recently by Paul Dale
Labour is continuing to hedge its bets over the possibility that Birmingham might soon be run by an elected mayor.
So much so that the party has no plans to select a mayoral candidate until after the May 2012 referendum, which will finally decide whether the city is to have an elected mayor.
The jury's out on whether this is good or bad news for Sion Simon, the former Labour MP for Erdington, who resigned last year in order to campaign to become his party's choice for Birmingham mayor.
David Cameron told me once that he had to choose his words very carefully when talking about Birmingham because he generally seemed to end up making life difficult for Tory city council leader Mike Whitby.
The trouble is that journalists keep asking about elected mayors, and Mr Cameron has a habit of speaking his mind on the issue.
His strongly held view is that big cities need big, flamboyant figures as mayors - like Boris Johnson in London, or Ray Mallon in Middlesbrough.
Coun Whitby is dead against the idea, as are most Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Labour councillors in Birmingham.
But it is looking increasingly likely that Birmingham will be voting for a mayor sometime in 2012, and that gives the Tories well under a year to select a candidate. Judging by an interview Mr Cameron gave to Jon Walker, our Political Editor, Mike Whitby seems unlikely to fit the bill.
The leaders of Birmingham City Council's Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition are about to head off on yet another brainstorming away-day to mull over how to cut ÃÂ£330 million from the budget of what is Britain's largest public authority.
To put an obviously a scary figure into some context, it represents almost one-third of what the council currently spends on non-schools services.
This is, therefore, unlike any other cuts exercise ever undertaken in this country particularly because the Government has decided the savings should be front-loaded with more being chopped in 2011 and 2012 than the following two years.
It is hardly surprising that council leaders are taking their time in deciding what to do.
Now that the Birmingham-Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership has been approved by the Government, it is reasonable to ask what happens next?
LEPs, as far as anyone can see, will have no budgets to speak of and little in the way of executive powers.
What they will have is committed and enthusiastic support from the business community, for the time being at least.
The tireless efforts of Birmingham Chamber of Commerce chief executive Jerry Blackett to help get the Greater Birmingham LEP off the ground can only be applauded. And Jerry, ever the optimist, is already looking forward to the influence that businesses will be able to bring over the ÃÂ£15 billion of public expenditure in the LEP area.
He puts it like this: "LEPs allow us to identify a small number of important priorities into which we can all focus our collective efforts and resources. Some of these will not require new money but simply, better co-ordination and joining up of existing spend."
I must confess to having a sneaking regard for larger-than-life Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles.
When I first came across Mr Pickles, he was the newly-elected Conservative leader of Bradford Council in the late 1980s.
A Tory in charge of Bradford at that time was almost as shocking as the man who sat on the Queen's bed.
Mr Pickles hasn't changed much in the intervening years; if anything his views have hardened.
His basic take on local government is that councils generally are a wasteful over-paid, under-performing, over-zealous, interfering bunch of nitwits and that almost all services could be run more efficiently and cheaply by private and voluntary sectors.
There's a feeling of disbelief at the city council at the Government's determination to foist a directly elected mayor on Birmingham.
Rumours have been around for several months that Tory Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles had a cunning plan to make sure a referendum to discover whether people wanted a mayor would produce the right result - that is a 'yes' result to please prime minister David Cameron, who is a huge fan of elected mayors.
Displaying an audaciousness and low cunning of which even the worst Stalinist states would have been proud Mr Pickles and Mr Cameron are certainly going to go ahead with the promised referendum, but only after the mayor is already in place.
Glum faces at Birmingham City Council's slimmed-down press office, where those who have survived the cuts took the full force of fallout from the Sale of the Century fiasco.
One can only imagine the reaction upon hearing that Tory council leader Mike Whitby had once again ventured off-piste, this time by giving an interview to the Reuters news agency in which he appeared to suggest that the city's prized assets including the NEC, ICC and Symphony Hall would be up for sale if oil-rich Arab states could come up with a suitable cash sum.
Those of you fascinated by interesting statistics might like to try this for size.
The ÃÂ£330 million that Birmingham City Council expects to have to cut from its budgets over the next four years as a result of the public spending squeeze doesn't even come close to the ÃÂ£590 million it will have to pay for its grand new civic library in Centenary Square.
Granted, the bill for the library will be repaid over 60 years. But the true cost of the project, taking into account cash loans and maintenance payments, has certainly saddled the council with a financial headache that it could do without.
Quite correctly, council leaders are focusing on the difficult decisions that must be made with regards to finding ÃÂ£330 million in a very short period and are openly admitting that thousands of jobs may disappear along with harsh cuts to services.
With the benefit of hindsight, would council leader Mike Whitby have been quite so keen on building the library if he had an inkling of the unprecedented cuts in government funding heading Birmingham's way. Knowing Whitby, the answer is a resounding yes.
No reaction as yet from the city council's Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition to the news that Birmingham is to have a directly elected mayor by May 2012.
This has come as a bit of a blow, I imagine, since both halves of the partnership have fought tooth and nail against the idea.
But what must be really galling is the growing realisation that a mayor could be imposed on Birmingham without asking voters whether they want to get rid of the cabinet-chief executive system and be governed by one powerful individual instead.
Les Lawrence, the Tory councillor who is Birmingham's cabinet member for schools, was in imperious form at a scrutiny committee meeting called by Labour to oppose planned ÃÂ£13 million cuts in this year's education budget.
Lawrence took on all-comers with ease, batting away suggestions that the "efficiencies" he was proposing would lead to poorer services.
Nothing could be further from the truth, Lawrence insisted, as he outlined a cunning plan to reduce core budgets by making better use of government grants.
Grass roots issues are important in politics, but the obsession that Conservative politicians have with dustbins is verging on the ridiculous.
Tory councillors across the country have convinced themselves that retaining weekly bin collections is one of the great issues of our time.
So much so that Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles has written in forthright terms to the Audit Commission instructing it to withdraw guidelines to local authorities encouraging them to move to fortnightly collections.
Another honours list has come and gone, and still no sign of a gong for Birmingham City Council leader Mike Whitby.
It is more than a little odd, after six years in charge of Europe's largest local authority, that official recognition has not come his way.
Former Coventry Council leader Ken Taylor was appointed OBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours, while Dudley Council leader David Caunt picked up a CBE. There were numerous examples of district council leaders across the country being honoured.
It's become clear why Philip Parkin was the surprise victor in the race to be deputy leader of Birmingham City Council's Conservative group.
He must have run on a 'champion of the backbenchers' ticket to beat the leadership's favoured candidate, Keith Barton.
Attending a meeting of the leisure scrutiny committee, Parkin lost no time in tearing into time-serving colleagues.
The scrutiny process, he declared, was just all too "cosy" with committees rarely challenging cabinet decisions in the way they should.
He asked: "How many occasions have there been when scrutiny has come up with suggestions that the executive has taken on board?"
A long silence ensued.
Attention has quite rightly been focused on cabinet positions in Mike Whitby's mini reshuffle of posts at Birmingham City Council.
One of the more interesting appointments, however, involves chairmanship of the new finance scrutiny committee, which has gone to Edgbaston Conservative councillor Fergus Robinson.
Robinson, an accountant, is clearly well suited to the position, but might there not be a slight clash of interests given that he remains the Conservative group chief whip with responsibility for disciplining the troops?
He has built his career on successfully implementing council leader Mike Whitby's wishes by making sure that grumbling backbench Tory councillors toe the line by supporting at all times the Tory-Lib Dem coalition that has been running Birmingham since 2004.
Robinson the chief whip is not known for tolerating dissent.
The new deputy leader of Birmingham City Council's Conservative group is Philip Parkin.
Okay, not exactly earth shattering news.
Playing second fiddle in group matters to Mike Whitby wouldn't be everyone's first choice of a career move.
But Parkin's election by the 45-strong Tory group did surprise a number of pundits who had assumed the other contender, Longbridge councillor Keith Barton, would get the job.
No one could ever accuse Jack Dromey, the new MP for Birmingham Erdington, of being anything other than one of Labour's loyal footsoldiers.
That, presumably, is why he was rewarded with a safe seat.
The fact that he is married to Labour's deputy leader, Harriet Harman, and is the leader of one of the country's largest trade unions obviously helped too.
The Labour Party could be heading for its worst General Election defeat in Birmingham in decades.
Not my claim, but that of a Labour stalwart who says he can't remember when the party has been so unpopular on the doorsteps.
The well-known Birmingham figure, who naturally does not wish to be identified, says canvassing returns during the past couple of weeks have been disastrous.
And with the party struggling in most national opinion polls to climb above 30 per cent, Labour organisers must be eyeing nervously the likes of Hall Green, Ladywood and Hodge Hill, where the Liberal Democrats are making a big push.
At least Gordon Brown got one thing right when complaining about his disastrous election confrontation with Rochdale pensioner Gillian Duffy.
"That was a disaster", the prime minister told startled aides.
You're not wrong there, Gordon.
It remains to be seen whether Brown's comment that Mrs Duffy was a "bigoted woman" after disagreeing with her views about immigration and other issues turns out to be the final fatal slip that ends both his own career and condemns Labour to years in the political wilderness.
Party spin doctors did all they could to limit the damage, and the sight of once proud Gordon Brown scurrying round to Mrs Duffy's house in his chauffer-driven Jaguar to apologise in person will be one of the enduring memories of any General Election campaign.
Birmingham City Council got the favourable publicity it craved by offering a cosy chat to the BBC with Children's Services Director Colin Tucker.
During the course of a half-hour discussion, Mr Tucker let slip that six social workers had been sacked for incompetence during the past year.
The inference, in the course of a discussion about the death of Khyra Ishaq, was obvious enough.
Council social services, under fire for failing Khyra by failing to investigate properly her teachers' concerns that she was being quite literally starved to death by a deranged mother and step-father, was demonstrating that it could be tough when required.
Is there a General Election in the offing?
Excuse me for sounding a tad cynical, but just pause to think about the Damascene conversion of Labour and Conservative parties to the cause of high speed rail.
We all like the vision of 250mph bullet trains rocketing through the countryside, cutting journey times between Brimingham and London to 50 minutes. Very sexy.
It's the sort of feel-good policy that politicians love to promote.
Remember John Kennedy's man-on-the-moon ambitions in 1960?
The subsequent space race embraced cutting-edge new technology and made the Americans feel even better about themselves than they normally do.
The sentencing of Angela Gordon and Junaid Abuhamza for the manslaughter of Khyra Ishaq - the seven-year-old Handsworth girl brutally starved to death under the very noses of social services - will do nothing whatsoever to shift the arrogant culture of denial at Birmingham City Council.
Hours before the pair were due in court, a council spokeswoman was still peddling the line that talk of serious mistakes by social workers and education official contributing to Khyra's death was simply "a matter of opinion".
How entirely predictable that Birmingham City Council should own up to a possible 1,380 redundancies late on a Friday afternoon.
A perfect time to attempt to bury bad news, as a government adviser once memorably stated.
It gives me absolutely no pleasure to say 'I told you so', for this will be a personal tragedy for every individual dumped on the dole queue.
But it is now clear that the claim perpetuated by council leaders for two years, that the city's business transformation programme is not about getting rid of jobs, was little more than a cynical myth.
It is true that the latest job-shedding exercise, mainly in children's social services, is being driven forward by the near certainty of savage government spending cuts next year. But the whole ethos of business transformation - seeking to save ÃÂ£900 million over 10 years through adopting "more efficient ways of working" - is about slashing the council's 42,000 non-schools workforce.
How the well-heeled middle classes of Moseley and Kings Heath must be sniggering at the generosity of Birmingham City Council.
And if they care to think about it as they roar around in their 4x4s they might even be a little surprised, when everyone in the public sector is talking about an impending financial nightmare and savage cuts to services, that the kind-hearted council is offering free gym membership to all regardless of circumstances.
The ÃÂ£9 million Be Active scheme in association with primary health care trusts, which has been rolled out across Birmingham, is doubtless well-meant.
It offers gym membership and swimming sessions at no cost provided participants sign up to use the facilities at least once a week.
Interesting to note that Birmingham City Council transportation chief Len Gregory was quick off the mark with a plea to firms to allow workers to make a "staggered" early journey home as heavy snow began to fall on Tuesday afternoon.
For it was Coun Gregory who in February 2004 masterminded a notorious inquiry into the way the then Labour-controlled council dealt with a freak snowstorm that left even gritted roads impassable and resulted in motorists taking up to six hours to drive a couple of miles.
Nine years after the idea was first seriously discussed, Birmingham is finally approaching the finishing line in its quest for a new civic library.
Members of the city council planning committee have given the go-ahead for a "futuristic" glass-fronted structure in Centenary Square which has been designed by award-winning Dutch architects Mecanoo and will be built at a cost of ÃÂ£193 million and open in 2013.
Unusually for projects of this size, the new library will be paid for entirely by Birmingham City Council through a combination of borrowing and cash from land sales, when the economy eventually recovers. The fact that the local authority is to find the money and is not reliant on government or private sector funding is a source of great pride to Tory council leader Mike Whitby.
My exclusive story a week ago revealing that Birmingham International Airport's ÃÂ£120 million runway extension plan is in deep trouble represents something of an inconvenient truth for West Midlands' political elite.
It is always embarrassing for politicians when people begin to realise that local government's grand plans and strategies are nothing more than meaningless words if the money and the will to deliver major infrastructure projects like the BIA runway simply does not exist.
And let's be absolutely clear about this. Birmingham Airport does not, at the moment, have the money to build a longer runway and even if it did have the funding in place the BIA board remains to be convinced of the business case for doing so.
The BBC chief I feel sorriest for is Tom Sleigh, Chief Adviser Operations, slaving away for an annual pittance of ÃÂ£76,300.
Poor old Tom. How must he be feeling after a national newspaper exposed the 100 best-paid Beeb executives, with Mr Sleigh anchored in bottom place?
It's unclear to me what a Chief Adviser Operations does, although giving advice is clearly a large part of the job, but no doubt he is worth every penny.
Even James Heath, Controller Strategy Journalism, is on ÃÂ£85,000, while Richard Addy, Chief Adviser Journalism, is paid ÃÂ£104,000.
I'm particularly taken by Sue Inglish, Head of Political Programmes. At ÃÂ£125,000, this is a job I venture modestly to suggest one might be interested in should a vacancy occur in the not too distant future. Wouldn't mind a crack at Head of Newsgathering either, at ÃÂ£165,000, if present incumbent Francesca Unsworth decides to call it a day.
The ongoing row over Be Birmingham's use of the city's ÃÂ£115 million Working Neighbourhoods Fund puts the spotlight on a very shadowy organisation.
It is doubtful whether many people outside of the rarefied world of local government have ever heard of the City Strategic Partnership, as Be Birmingham used to be known before undergoing a trendy name change.
But this unelected body, which meets behind closed doors in private, is entrusted by the city council and the government to play an increasingly important role in deciding how large sums of public money should be spent - or not spent in this case.
It is no great surprise that Birmingham City Council leader Mike Whitby is not encouraged by his advisers to grant live media interviews.
But, oddly enough, the man who finds it difficult not to embellish the simplest of claims appeared to be erring very much on the side of caution when he told BBC TV that some 800 council jobs were likely to go as part of a major cost-cutting drive.
Had Whitby stuck an additional nought on the end, he might have been nearer the mark.
The question at the city council has always been not so much how many jobs are likely to disappear, but how quickly can we get rid of them?
Is local government in terminal decline?
I only ask since it seems certain that forecast savage public spending cuts will force more Midland councils to hand over the dwindling number of services they continue to run to the private and voluntary sectors
The talk is of local authorities "commissioning" service delivery rather than providing it directly and the shift over the past decade has been amazing.
Even Birmingham City Council, which unusually for a large English authority continues to run most services in-house, is beginning to dismantle some of the last vestiges of a century of municipalisation.