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Cuts signal groundhog day for Birmingham city council

Cuts signal groundhog day for Birmingham city council

🕔08.Dec 2016

“Here we are again” formed part of the greeting to the media by Cllr Clancy as he launched Birmingham city council’s budget proposals for 2017/18, with cuts totalling £78 million. Kevin Johnson and Hannah Green report. 

The plan, which is now subject to a period of public consultation until 18th January 2017, includes a council tax increase of 3.99 per cent (2 per cent Social Care Precept and 1.99 per cent general Council Tax increases).

There are a total of £50.6M savings over and above those already planned for 2017/18. It will mean an increase of £48 per year for a band D property in Birmingham.

The biggest individual saving next year, which has not already been factored in, is the implementation of a new IT and digital strategy. The plan to save more than £10M includes the commissioning of an external review of the Council’s current IT service contract with Service Birmingham ahead of a re-negotiation.

However, the real eye-catcher is the introduction of a new “Corporate Future Operating Model.” The Council will be looking for over £6M of savings next year, but the new “model” is expected to return £35M in savings in the following years.

There is plenty of management speak on offer – “streamlined management structures with reduced layers between the chief executive and the citizen to support our ‘local leadership’ role and provide clear accountability” – but scant detail. It will represent “radical change” and will bring the Council into the “right shape” for 2020, it was promised.

Further work needs to be done, according to Council bosses, ahead of commencing a formal consultation process with the trades unions in the New Year. It doesn’t take a political or financial genius to work out that a large number of further job losses are likely to result.

The Council leader is at pains to stress that it all could have been a lot worse. Without the savings he has instigated in the Council’s contribution to the West Midlands Pensions Fund, libraries, children’s centres and leisure centres would be closing down, he said.

It was emphasised that child protection services, the subject of increased investment following the Kerslake Review, will be ringfenced from any further cuts, at least until 2020.

This was the leader of the council, flanked by deputy Cllr Ian Ward, and CEO Mark Rogers, not in firebrand politician mode as witnessed 24 hours earlier, but as the safe and depdendale accountant-in-chief.

We will balance the books.

Council leaders would bear down on the forecast £38M overspend for 2016/17. Whilst use of the organisational transitional reserve was not planned, it was in line with the reserves strategy according to Mr Rogers. Auditors exercising caution was “proper” he suggested, but the assembled media were given a united show of confidence.

Councillor John Clancy, Leader of Birmingham City Council, said:

Birmingham City Council is facing an extremely tough financial landscape against a backdrop of continuing service cuts in Government grant. We have already taken around £590 million out of our budget plans since 2010/11 – this includes having had to address an unprecedented 34 per cent reduction in our Government grant – and we expect to have to find around a further £180 million by 2021.

In such circumstances, the task of putting together the 2017/18 budget posed unprecedented difficulties as dwindling Government funding and unremitting pressure to meet growing demand for adult social care combined to pose the greatest financial challenge ever faced by the Council.

It is inevitable in an age of austerity that unpalatable decisions have to be taken about the services we can continue to pay for, and those areas where the council, reluctantly must withdraw support.

As part of the consultation, cabinet members, including the Leader, will be conducting a ‘Twitter takeover’ of the council’s account in order to talk to “as many people as possible” about the budget proposals. There will also be two public consultation events.

Cllr Robert Alden, the Leader of the Birmingham Conservatives, said:

This is the price Birmingham residents are having to pay for the financial mistakes of the Labour Council. Failing to meet their budget last year has caused an overspend of £49 million, this has resulted in £50 million worth of savings having to be made this year. This is a financial crisis for Birmingham caused by the Labour Council in Birmingham.

Cllr Jon Hunt, the Leader of Birmingham Liberal Democrats, said:

The budget consultation issued today raises as many questions as it delivers answers. And yet again it offers few choices to the people of Birmingham.

Yet again social services are the big loser and this will have a huge impact on families and on health services. It is also unclear how parks services can cope with a 20% reduction in maintenance.

There are a number of front-line measures that have not been implemented this year  – which has been good news – but they have never been formally abandoned and we do not know if they will now go ahead or not: playground closures, street cleaning reductions, school crossing patrols, library closures.

It looks as though 2017 may be the council’s worst year. After that a big management reorganisation is due to deliver huge savings. If so it is time to start planning for recovery and setting out what services will be restored to the people of Birmingham.

Details of the budget proposals can be found here and you can follow the debate on Twitter via #BrumBudget17.

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