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No end in sight to the end of local government as we know it

No end in sight to the end of local government as we know it

🕔09.Jul 2013

meltdownLocal government in Birmingham must radically change the way it operates in order to avoid meltdown of public services amid the most savage spending cuts for decades, city council leader Sir Albert Bore has warned.

In his annual policy statement delivered 14 months after taking power at the head of a Labour party administration, Sir Albert said old ways of operating would not deliver the necessary savings or close a £600 million gap between income and spending demands faced by the council.

He pointed out that the impact of the Chancellor’s austerity programme meant that the city council would lose getting on for half of external funding between 2011 and 2016. A reduction on such a scale had never been seen before.

Unless “radical” action was taken to “modernise” the way the council went about its business all services other than social care and waste disposal would have to be cut by 60 per cent, he said.

Repeating again his claim that local authorities across the country are “facing the end of local government as we know it”, Sir Albert sketched out a change agenda that is likely to involve farming out some services to the private and voluntary sectors, devolving budgets and decision making powers to neighbourhood level and work out ways of “rewiring our public services if we are to deliver what people need with a lot less money”.

Efforts will also be made to encourage closer co-operation between the council and the NHS including, crucially, the sharing of budgets and cutting out duplication of service delivery. The growing financial strain of caring for an ageing population as well as adults with learning difficulties threatens to bankrupt the council.

It’s also been confirmed that the bill faced by the council to meet equal pay compensation claims by former employees now stands at more than £850 million and is continuing to grow.

Sir Albert told a meeting of the full council: “This has been the year in which we have faced up to the immensity of the challenge ahead and the need for radical change. It’s not just the cuts but the rapid changes in our economy and society that will bring new pressures on our services.

“The challenge of change is real. We cannot avoid responding to it. But we should not leave it to others to determine how this city, our communities and this council are affected by these changes.

“I am convinced we can begin a period of radical change that will restate the role of the city council and create a model of city government that will again be copied by others in the years ahead.”

In a clear hint that volunteers and  local communities will be expected to do more to assist those in need rather than rely on council-run services, Sir Albert said: “There is a clear role for an activist council to give leadership in responding to these changes and in trying to shape the future that they create. We must modernise the council and try to equip our city for that future.”

The council leader listed what he said were the achievements of his administration since May 2012. These included introducing the Living Wage for council employees, securing £63 million for the redevelopment of Paradise Circus and setting up the city centre enterprise zone as well as economic growth zones.

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