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Bore calls in the auditors (sort of)

Bore calls in the auditors (sort of)

🕔16.Aug 2013

Yesterday, Sir Albert Bore published an open letter describing the latest and even gloomier budget outlook for the country’s largest council. At first glance it might appear Bore is simply trotting out his familiar line in a quiet August. He uses his well-worn Jaws of Doom descriptor and graph, only with the jaws opening even wider. So nothing really new, hey?

The headline figure is that rather than cutting £615M between 2011-2017, it will now be £825 until 2018.

Sir Albert Bore has tried to seek the middle ground in the context of austerity economics. He has gone to great lengths, successful or not, to position himself as figure of pragmatism at the centre of Birmingham politics.

Bore’s critics have mischaracterised his rhetoric as hyperbole and protestation, with John Hemming MP going as far as deriding the leader as “disingenuous” and saying it is time to put aside the “woe is me” attitude in order to start “cutting his cloth accordingly”. Genuine criticism could be levelled at the Leader for pushing the budget crisis too hard, too often and having a negative impact on confidence in Greater Birmingham’s economy and Birmingham’s image beyond its borders. His open letter did manage to remind readers about positive news on inward investment and jobs, albeit in paragraph 11 of 12.

Rather, in keeping with his pragmatism, Bore has actually accepted the need for cuts dictated by central government and hasn’t attempted to create much partisan capital from a “woe is me” tone, preferring instead to appear as a consensus leader. He even managed to remain positive when the Lord Heseltine-inspired Local Growth Fund turned from a pot to a thimble.

While Bore has deployed “Jaws of Doom” device as a means of communicating increasing costs and decreasing revenues, rarely has he challenged the actual basis of the cuts demanded by central government. He could have picked up his toys and refused to play the austerity game or at least attacked the Coalition parties, but Bore has chosen to get on with governing the city in difficult times. It has already cost him a significant dent from Councillor John Clancy in the latest leadership contest.

The service reviews seek to demonstrate an attempt to turn the tough lot given to him by Osborne and Pickles into an opportunity to redefine local government with “creative, bold solutions.”  He hasn’t truly challenged the cuts, or signalled an expectation that a Labour government would reverse the position. That is until yesterday.

Bore’s decision to suggest calling in the auditors (or at least the National Audit Office, although it doesn’t yet have responsibility for auditing local government) marks a watershed moment. Put simply, he’s had enough. By calling for the NAO to investigate central government’s management of funding to councils, and to assess the future viability of local government as a result of continuing cuts and an inability to meet its statutory responsibilities, Bore is no longer playing nicely.

Bore is challenging the basis on which the budget allocations are made, or at least the lack of clarity and transparency by which funding is decided through complex formulas. In particular, he’s probably reached his limit with a lack of real engagement and partnership from Communities Secretary Eric Pickles.

There is not much prospect of anything changing radically in Whitehall. A new Communities Secretary in an Autumn re-shuffle might change the mood music. The Core Cities Cabinet is building a stronger voice. A Select Committee inquiry might shine more light on the big issues. However, it falls to the Council’s service reviews to map out a new model for Birmingham City Council. Will they be radical enough – or will they be a case of turkeys not voting for Christmas and just result in compromises that simply nibble at the edges?

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