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Birmingham’s £100m cuts budget passed amid noisy protests

Birmingham’s £100m cuts budget passed amid noisy protests

🕔26.Feb 2013

councilhouseNoisy protests from the public gallery and a brief adjournment to evict protesters could not prevent Birmingham City Council from approving a budget that will deliver £100 million cuts to public services with the loss of 1,000 jobs.

But the unease among many members of the controlling Labour group was clear to see as council leader Sir Albert Bore predicted an even grimmer financial position next year and repeated his claim that Britain is witnessing the end of local government as we have known it.

There was little more than a polite ripple of applause for Sir Albert from his own side when he finished his 50-minute budget speech, with the claim that despite the cuts the council would become “a beacon of fairness”.

Arguments about the scale and choice of cuts continued to rage behind closed doors at a Labour group meeting on the eve of the annual budget-fixing session, before councillors finally approved Sir Albert’s tactics.

There was precious little good news in an otherwise doom-laden speech. Some £15 million has been identified to help tackle youth unemployment and council tax bills will be frozen for 2013-14. The city centre enterprise zone, launched last week, which could create 40,000 jobs, also got a mention from the council leader.

However, Sir Albert found himself under pressure to explain why he had accepted a one-off government grant to deliver a zero council tax rise when he refused to accept a similar grant to ward off cuts in council tax benefit.

The budget delivers wide-ranging cuts across all council departments and controversially introduces a £35 annual charge for the garden waste collection service as well as reducing free home to school transport for hundreds of children.

As expected, Sir Albert tore into the Government for forcing councils to impose ”Dickensian” cuts in public services. Savings in Birmingham this year will account for 10.5 per cent of the revenue budget.

The council will have lost 50 per cent of its core budget between 2010 and 2015. Provisional figures for next year suggest that cuts in Government grant are likely to more than double in 2014-15.

Although the Government has made no spending commitments for after 2015, most analysts suggest further spending cuts of up to 25 per cent of budgets.

The gap between the amount Birmingham needs to spend and the resources it will have amounts to £615 million by 2016-17, the so-called Jaws of Doom, Sir Albert stated.

The Government’s “unfair” policies were bringing “a shadow of fear and uncertainty across the lives of many people in this city”, he added.

He took the opportunity to attack Coventry University professor David Bailey for his assertion in Chamberlain Files and the Birmingham Post that the council is getting rid of services too quickly based on inaccurate projections of possible future cuts in Government grant.

Sir Albert said: “Does anyone seriously imagine that we would make more cuts than necessary?

“The scale of the problems we are facing means that we cannot simply make year on year efficiency savings. We have to plan for a radical change in what the council does and how it does it, and that will take years to bring about.

“So we have already begun a programme of fundamental service reviews that will identify the activities that contribute most to our objectives, those that could be done more cheaply and those that could be discontinued.”

The council leader concluded his speech with a call for strong city region and paid tribute to Lord Heseltine’s attempt to persuade the Government to hand over budgets and powers to Birmingham and other major cities.

He said: “The great cities are the engines of growth and the country will not prosper unless we do. I have said publicly many times that I believe this Government has been very positive in recognising that and seeking to give more powers to the cities.”

Opposition Conservative and Liberal Democrat groups proposed alternative budgets, both would have abandoned the move to wheelie bins, but Labour’s huge majority in the council chamber meant that Sir Albert’s spending plan was never at risk of being defeated.

Both opposition parties sought to present the Labour proposals as panic-striken and accused Sir Albert of “doom and gloom politics”.

Tory group leader Mike Whitby pointed out that the council’s spending had consistently outstripped inflation since 2004. Sir Albert’s ‘jaws of doom’ should be re-named the jaws of truth to depict the fact that the council is £160 million better off than would have been the case if spending had been pegged to inflation.

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