Grasping the spirit of Chamberlain

07 June 2022

Joseph Chamberlain is, arguably, the father of modern local government. Elected as Mayor of Birmingham City Council in 1873, he forged a reputation for reform.

In his own version of the current Government’s levelling up, Chamberlain set about clearing the slums of the city, boosting education and improving housing conditions. He created a new municipal entrepreneurialism, taking local government ownership of the water and gas boards, and the poor board.

He built public libraries, municipal cities and schools. In short, he drastically improved Birmingham as a city and the lives of its most deprived residents.

in a tenure that is still talked about nearly 150 years later. His legacy lives on, not just in the city of Birmingham but also in the annual Chamberlain Lecture, organised by Cratus Communications with The MJ as media partner.

This year, Cllr Georgia Gould, leader of Camden LBC and chair of London Councils, is the keynote speaker at the event, to be held on 16 June.

In the run-up to the event, we asked some of the UK’s great leaders what is their Chamberlain moment – what is their biggest achievement or radical reform that will remain into the next century.

The Chamberlain Lecture 2022, will be held at the Royal Institution, London, at 7pm on 16 June. For details and registration, see here 

Birmingham City Council leader, Cllr Ian Ward

My Chamberlain moment came on 21 December 2017 when Birmingham was awarded the 2022 Commonwealth Games – the biggest event our city has ever staged.

This is not an essay about a sporting event – it’s an explanation of how we are harnessing the full potential of hosting the Games to improve the lives and life chances of people from every neighbourhood and community across the city.

And just as back in the 19th century, Joseph Chamberlain understood Birmingham’s challenges and used every tool at his disposal to tackle them, we are doing exactly the same in 2022.

Hosting the Games is about so much more than staging 11 days of world-class sporting action. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Birmingham and the benefits for the people of this city include an investment package of almost £1bn for new homes and jobs, better public transport and upgraded infrastructure.

When Joe Chamberlain cleared Birmingham’s slums, he was in effect levelling up for the most disadvantaged and his actions transformed lives. Fast forward 150 years and we’re using the Games to do exactly that – to level up and tackle the big challenges that sadly remain to the present day.

Birmingham’s unemployment is double the national average; there is a decade’s gap in life expectancy between the poorest areas and the most affluent areas and over 40% of our children grow up in relative poverty.

Clearly, the Games alone will not solve these problems, but we’re determined to use this summer as the springboard to what I’ve dubbed Birmingham’s Golden Decade of Opportunity.

I have no doubt that in years to come, people will look back on the 2022 Commonwealth Games as the moment when Birmingham changed for the better.

Bristol City Council Mayor, Marvin Rees

My administration is all about getting stuff done. Every time we see families get their keys for their new home it’s clear this is the biggest positive intervention we can make. It’s the best part of my job as mayor.

Every single indicator and life chance improves when families move into homes more suited to their needs, whether that means having a kitchen table for the kids to do their homework on, enough bedrooms for them to sleep in, or a garden to get out into.

Built in the right way, in the right place, new homes are also a critical step for tackling the climate and ecological emergencies. We’re thinking holistically: spending with local contractors, building in active travel and public transport, connecting to clean energy, supporting wildlife, incorporating flood defences, and even equipping the next generation of builders through our new Advanced Construction Skills Centre and Skills Academy.

New homes – especially new affordable homes – are the closest thing to a policy panacea we have. I’m proud that we’ve got Bristol building, with some 9,000 new homes built since 2016, in the face of enormous challenges, from Brexit, to COVID, to the climate emergency. While we’ve made incredible progress, with the most new affordable homes built this year in more than a decade, we’re determined to keep ramping up delivery. Through Project 1,000, we’re working to get Bristol building 1,000 new affordable and social homes a year in our city by 2024.

Leader of Leeds City Council, Cllr James Lewis

In terms of ‘legacy’ thinking longer-term than the day-to-day ongoing issues we all face, making a real and lasting difference through protecting our environment for future generations and tackling climate change is among our top priorities.

In Leeds, we have set the need to achieve net zero as one of the three pillars in our City Ambition, such is the importance of the issue and the need to address it. To achieve this we are committed to delivering low-carbon and affordable transport options, reducing the need for people to get in their own cars, and encouraging people to lead more active and healthy lives by investing in public spaces and promoting sustainable locally-grown food.

In terms of housing and tackling fuel poverty, our £47m district heating network provides sustainable and affordable heat to more than 2,000 homes with more to follow, while we have committed £100m investment in decarbonisation measures and newbuild standards to ensure our housing is of the highest possible quality allowing people to live comfortably in energy-efficient homes.

We are also very keen to work with industry to make things better for our residents, such as our partnership with Better Homes Yorkshire to install insulation and solar panels for free for those on low incomes.

In Leeds we greatly value our green spaces and the role they have to play now and for the future and that is why we work closely with our communities, landowners and partners to protect nature and enhance habitats for wildlife to not only survive but to flourish. As a council we have pledged to plant 5.8 million trees in Leeds over the next 25 years.

If legacy is what you leave behind for those who follow you to inherit, nothing is of more importance than ensuring our communities have the best possible conditions to develop and grow for generations to come.

Salford City Mayor, Paul Dennett

Salford is a city of firsts – we had the first free public library and street to be lit by gas.

Thanks to a huge green urban regeneration project, Salford has gone from ‘Dirty Old Town’ to ‘the most sustainable council in England and Wales’ according to the Centre for Thriving Places, and the ‘Greenest Council in the North West’ by Friends of the Earth. The city is home to the fifth national RHS Garden and 13 Green Flag award parks.

This council is investing in new green infrastructure, including a solar farm in Little Hulton and hydro-electric dam at Charlestown Weir. A multi-million pound flood basin protects our residents and functions as a wetland nature reserve and public amenity.

This city was forged in the industrial revolution.

When our industries declined in the 1980s, they ripped the soul from our town.

Salford hasn’t taken this lying down – we’ve pursued long-term investment without government assistance to get our economy on its feet again. We are now one of the fastest-growing economies in the country. MediaCity was pursued by the council in the 1990s and is now home to the largest hub for digital and tech industries in the country outside of London!

Our plans for ‘Port Salford’, to reopen the Manchester-Liverpool ship canal once again for heavy freight, will put Salford as an international hub for shipping and trade.

A national housing crisis has engulfed our country, following a decade of housing policy failure from national Government. The cost of a new home is more than many can afford, and increasingly, rents are also spiralling out of control.

That is why I have committed to building council housing in our city once again – and through the council’s new arm’s-length delivery company Dérive, we have already built hundreds. We won’t stop building until every Salford resident has a roof over their head.

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Climate change Housing Fuel poverty Skills Transport Levelling up