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The jaws of doom get even wider

The jaws of doom get even wider

🕔09.Jan 2013

The financial crisis at Birmingham City Council has deepened with the local authority now expecting it will have to make budget cuts of £625 million over a six year period.

Previous estimates for a savings package between 2010-11 and 2016-17 were put at £600 million – half of the core budget – and led council leader Sir Albert Bore to declare “the end of local government as we know it”.

Cllr Bore (Lab Ladywood) insisted today that the projected deficit would grow by a further £25 million, chiefly as a result of Communities Secretary Eric Pickles’s pre-Christmas announcement on local authority spending levels.

Quizzed for two hours by the main scrutiny committee, Cllr Bore and his deputy Cllr Ian Ward repeated warnings that the decommissioning of non-statutory council services would have to begin in 2014. Public consultation on which services should be jettisoned is to start this summer.

Growing tension between the council and Birmingham schools and academies bubbled over during the meeting after Cllr Bore revealed that head teachers had unexpectedly withdrawn a £4 million contribution towards council-run children’s social services and the youth service.

The money is a vital component in running the council’s new Integrated Family Support (IFS) teams – bodies consisting of police officers, teachers, GPs and social workers whose role is to identify children at risk of domestic violence, or who are likely to drift into crime, and intervene at an early stage to save huge court and social care costs at a later stage.

The IFS initiative is a major lever in an attempt to remove Birmingham children’s social services from Ofsted’s “inadequate” rating and move towards an excellence ranking. But the scheme always depended on a financial contribution from schools.

Birmingham Schools Forum, representing all schools, decided recently not to renew the grant in 2013-14, leaving the council with a difficult dilemma.

The position was made worse by the Government’s refusal to approve Birmingham’s request for a £13 million grant to pay for deputy prime minister Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrat conference announcement that two-year-olds would be entitled to free nursery education, Sir Albert added.

It’s now clear that a key plank of the Labour-led council’s strategy is to examine ways of forcing schools to contribute more to children’s social care, the youth service and the careers service. Cabinet-led reviews are underway to determine which schools-based services are statutory, that the council has to pay for, and those that are discretionary that schools would be asked to fund.

Sir Albert cast doubt on the representative nature of the Schools Forum and questioned whether the body accurately presented the views of Birmingham schools. There was no transparency in the way the decision to axe the £4 million grant had been arrived at, he claimed.

Cllr Ward said “some searching questions” would have to be asked about the extent to which schools were providing careers advice to young people.

Unease among Labour’s left wing was evident at the scrutiny committee. Cllr John Clancy urged Sir Albert to tone down language around the so-called Jaws of Doom – a graph suggesting that the council will run out of money by 2017 because the burden of providing social services will be impossible to meet against annual reductions in Government grant.

Cllr Clancy said the doom analogy had created a perception that the decommissioning of services was inevitable. He urged Sir Albert to take into account the likelihood of a Labour government in 2015 which would ease the immediate financial pressure on councils.

Once services were dispensed with it would be very difficult to restore them, Cllr Clancy warned.

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