Clancy seeks cross-party agreement on Birmingham spending priorities
Birmingham council’s Labour leader John Clancy remains hopeful of reaching a historic agreement with Conservative and Liberal Democrat councillors over the city’s medium-term spending plans.
Cllr Clancy wants to put an end to the annual political dog-fight, where the parties squabble in the council chamber over budget plans, rowing over anything from the lack of public toilets to the axing of school lollipop patrols.
Although he recognises there will always be differences of opinion over priorities, he hopes to move forward on developing a cross-party four-year budget framework setting out in broad terms the council’s spending plans.
Such a move would be in line with an announcement by Communities Secretary Greg Clark that “councils able to plan ahead with confidence” can agree a four-year spending settlement with the Government.
The deal would give Birmingham certainty over the level of Government grant the council will receive between now and 2020. At the moment, grant allocations are announced annually, making long term planning more difficult.
Any agreement would cover the critical period up to 2020, after which rate support grant will be scrapped and councils will rely for funding on generating income from business rates.
A cross-party agreement would also address concerns in the Kerslake Review about Birmingham council’s failure in the past to involve all councillors in key decisions.
Cllr Clancy, who took over as council leader last December, had hoped to present the city’s 2016-17 budget with joint agreement from the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, but discussions proved unsuccessful.
He has begun holding regular meetings with the leaders of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat groups in the hope of improving communication and fostering better relations.
Cllr Clancy told a full council meeting:
I would like to take up the offer of a four-year budget that we can all agree.
The council leader’s chances of reaching agreement with his political rivals will not have been improved, however, by an outspoken attack on the Chancellor’s austerity programme, which Cllr Clancy said wasn’t working and would land Birmingham with a further £140 million of spending cuts by 2020.
In his 2016 Budget, Mr Osborne announced plans to cut a further £3.5 billion from public spending in the year 2019-20.
Accusing the Chancellor of producing “another omnishambles” budget, Cllr Clancy said Mr Osborne’s tactics amounted to austerity for some and hand-outs for a few. Austerity was not an economic necessity, more of an ideological policy agenda, he claimed.
The additional public spending cuts meant that Birmingham would have to look again at its spending plans, Cllr Clancy said. The council already expects to have to find £250 million in cuts by 2020.
The Secretary of State has finally given some initial details of the arrangements for the setting of four-year budgets by councils, and should we avail ourselves of this approach there may be a need to review budgets more fundamentally and more long-term in the light of this.
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