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Sir Albert issues a new warning: Three Steps to Armageddon

Sir Albert issues a new warning: Three Steps to Armageddon

🕔26.Sep 2013

Sir Albert Bore has soared to fresh oratorical heights in warning Birmingham to prepare for disaster.

The End of Local Government As We Know It and the ever-widening Jaws of Doom have been enhanced by a new description of George Osborne’s austerity programme…… ‘Armageddon’.

City council leader Sir Albert sought inspiration from the Bible when working himself up into a right old lather at a regular monthly meeting of Labour councillors.

The session was held privately but details have leaked out to Chamberlain Files about Sir Albert’s extraordinary performance.

“He just kept using the word ‘Armageddon’ to describe what was going to happen when we have to close down loads of public services. It was amazing. He just kept repeating Armageddon,” recalled one councillor who was at the meeting.

As far as anyone knows, Sir Albert has no strong religious convictions. So it is unclear whether the council leader is up to pace with the Book of Revelation which describes Armageddon as a ferocious battle at the end of the world.

One Christian interpretation has it that the Messiah (possibly Albert, in this case) will defeat the Antichrist (Osborne?) and Satan (Cameron?) in the Battle of Armageddon and cast Satan into a bottomless pit for 1,000 years before decamping to the New Jerusalem.

Either way, it all sounds a bit messy. Not to mention, a trifle hysterical.

A few days after warning Labour to prepare for Armageddon, Sir Albert briefed the media on another of his service reviews setting out how the council intends to find cuts of £825 million. He did not mention Armageddon, preferring instead to stick with the tried and trusted Jaws of Doom.

This review dealt with parts of the council which have responsibility for the local economy, in particular planning and regeneration, culture and tourism, and transportation.

The briefing gave Sir Albert an opportunity to praise cabinet member Steve Bedser, who is credited with having invented a three steps approach to deciding which council services have to be decommissioned.

Step one is to develop “more agile and income neutral services”. Step two comes into play if step one saves an insufficient amount of money and involves invoking “more radical service change options”. Step three, the Armageddon solution, is enforced and is described thus: “If the need continues to outweigh the solutions, cease services on a prioritised basis”.

Cllr Bedser (did anyone ever rise so quickly without trace?) said: “We need to see considerable service innovation. Under the current way of doing things we will just run out of cash.

“Can we offer a gold-plated service or should we consider more basic services. We have to have a discussion about what it is we should stop doing. We have to be forensic about how we make these judgments.”

It goes almost without saying that Sir Albert’s scientific approach is struggling to get off the laboratory table. Most of the service reviews published so far are being re-examined by cabinet members because they do not provide sufficient financial savings.

The latest explanation of the system being used to make sure services are ‘fairly’ chosen for closure – inevitably dubbed Three Steps to Armageddon – has certainly not impressed Sir Albert’s critics in the Labour group. They are waiting for a white paper in December which will set out details of the services that the council can no longer afford to run and intends to scrap.

The white paper, when finally published, will represent a pivotal moment for Birmingham council’s controlling Labour group. The culmination of a year’s work is expected to set out a strategy for dealing with public spending cuts over the next five years and will for the first time put flesh on the bones of Sir Albert’s decommissioning of services warning.

What nobody knows at this stage is whether the Labour group will wear it?

At what are certain to be stormy meetings Sir Albert and his allies will be called upon to explain why they have failed to make substantial inroads into the cost of contracts that the council has with the private sector. Namely, the Highways PFI with Amey and Service Birmingham with Capita.

This argument, bubbling away behind the scenes for months, has been given fresh impetus by the economy service review which proposes saving a measly £1 million from the Amey contract. That amounts to three per cent of a £30 million budget.

Service Birmingham, meanwhile, is paid £120 million a year to run the council’s ITC services – a figure that could and should be cut to £30 million, according to the supporters of rebel Labour councillor John Clancy.

Cllr Clancy, who challenged Sir Albert for the council leadership in May and won support from just under a third of the group, said: “We have a controllable budget of £30 million with Amey and it has to be substantially renegotiated in order to save serious money.”

The potential for savings from Service Birmingham appear to be far greater, with some Labour councillors openly questioning why ICT provision cannot be brought back in-house, or at least contracted to a local company at a much cheaper rate. This would involve tricky negotiations with Capita to escape from the Service Birmingham contract, and would probably result in hefty legal costs for the council.

But the prospect of realising £100 million a year by renegotiating contracts with the private sector will clearly appeal to most Labour councillors rather more than the decommissioning of services, however ‘forensic’ the approach to deciding the cuts might be.


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