Clancy looks to ‘re-set’ the agenda
John Clancy, Labour leader of Birmingham city council, will this week try to “re-set” the political agenda in Birmingham following the “early retirement” of chief executive Mark Rogers, confirmed late on Friday following six uncertain days for Britain’s largest local authority. Kevin Johnson looks ahead in the second part of a start-of-the-week feature on events at Birmingham city council.
The last time the Chamberlain Files heard “re-set” language used in politics was when Hilary Clinton, as US Secretary of State, tried to adopt a fresh start in relations with Russia. That went well….
Cllr Clancy is expected to urge Birmingham to move away from “obsessing about procedural issues.” In pre-released remarks to the media ahead of his speech to full council on Tuesday, the sentence is as close to mentioning changes to senior management as Cllr Clancy gets.
It is unlikely that every councillor will see that as the last word on the crisis. The unexpected departure of a chief executive is difficult for any organisation, but as the Birmingham Independent Improvement Panel letter to the Communities Secretary on Friday made clear, issues with the deliverability of the council’s budget go beyond the responsibility of one person.
Nevertheless, Cllr Clancy will presumably look back at the events of the last ten days and wonder if anything could have been handled better, including returning from holiday later than might have been wise to deal with the fallout and longer than expected negotiations over that early retirement package.
Cllr Clancy will face his Labour Group this evening. Some backbenchers will, no doubt, want to better understand the timeline of events and know more about the costs associated with Mr Rogers’ early retirement and any other likely fallout from the senior management echelons.
In his speech on Tuesday, Cllr Clancy will accuse the Government of “conspiring to destroy public services by continuing with an unprecedented nine-year attack on local government spending.”
He wants to move the focus to the impact of almost £600 million of council budget cuts since 2010 – the result, he will say, of a huge reduction in Government grant.
The council expects to have to remove a further £170 million from its budget by 2021, including £71 million in 2017-18.
Cllr Clancy will also highlight the loss of 10,000 city council jobs in six years, halving the workforce.
He is expected to say:
By the end of this decade, nearly two-thirds of the revenue budget as it existed in 2010 will have been removed. And all of this at a time of soaring demand for adult social care and a crisis in the NHS.
This year alone, we have had to deliver £92 million of savings.
Whatever the Government says, we all know the truth: cuts to public services at such unprecedented levels cannot be achieved without harming those least able to look after themselves.
He will add that Birmingham is facing “the toughest ever choices” about public services.
All of the easy savings have been achieved. The low-hanging fruit has long been blown away by the harsh winds of austerity.
Almost a decade after the global financial crash, one thing is clear: austerity isn’t working.
Cities like Birmingham, with the greatest needs and the greatest spending pressures, continue to suffer the greatest cuts. Austerity is destroying the very public services upon which so many Brummies rely.
Cllr Clancy will also draw attention to a range of positive economic indicators as evidence of Birmingham’s buoyancy. Backbencher John Clancy may have had a strong word or two to say if his predecessor Sir Albert Bore had pointed, as he will, to a city centre “throbbing with regeneration.”
Seasoned observers of Birmingham’s plight may again contrast the economic performance of the city, particularly its centre, with the performance of the council, as The Times (£) did on Friday.
The council leader will also reiterate a commitment to deliver new homes for Birmingham, with 10,000 dwellings to be built over the next few years at Smithfield, Curzon and Snow Hill. He will say:
Good quality housing must be in the very front line of our fight to tackle poverty.
The private sector must step up and deliver homes at a scale never before achieved.
Poor quality housing isn’t only a moral issue, it’s an economic issue too and that’s why building decent homes is right at the top of my agenda along with protecting children.
Cllr Jon Hunt, leader of the LibDem group, will say there are two issues for the council: how it gets through the coming year and what kind of shape it will be in for a new administration following the 2018 elections.
Cllr Hunt told the Chamberlain Files:
When I first spoke as group leader last year, I warned of the huge risks the council faced. Sadly events of the past year have borne out those fears. We have had to rethink some of our objectives and come up with new ways to approach them.
But we still think there is scope for the council to do much better for its citizens, to put serious investment into tackling fly-tipping and antisocial behaviour, to encourage recycling of waste and to encourage efficient use of public money.
The council’s budget plan is in some ways excessively cautious. Some £57 million is being retained in a special transitional fund with no plans to use it over the next five years.
Beyond that the financial projections are now looking challenging – even though the council’s income is due to stabilise and the harsh cuts of recent years are due to end, it’s not clear how it will pay for rising social care pressures. And there is still a sense that the council lacks any vision of a world beyond austerity.
At the same time the current management meltdown, in a way, justifies that caution. It’s all been a series of own goals by the Labour administration and I desperately hope we are not left in a situation where a poorly-implemented plan (including unanticipated and excessive cuts to services) makes it hard for the council to move forward.
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