- Created: Thursday, 01 February 2018 11:03
- Written by Joe Smith
On 10 January 2018 the Labour-run Birmingham City Council (BCC) held a public meeting, with limited spaces, to ‘discuss’ the new council budget. This meeting and its accompanying online survey are the efforts of a council committed to austerity to appear democratic while making people choose between mental health care, housing provisions and environmental protection. BCC does this instead of setting a no-cuts budget that would defend the services the working class requires. Our position is no cuts full stop. Joe Smith reports.
Labour council leader Ian Ward, who took over after the poor treatment of bin workers during their strike against redundancies, was, according to the opportunist Left, a major improvement on his predecessor, John Clancey. Ward, though, true to Labour Party form, has agreed to implement ‘Tory’ cuts. This is confirmed in the Budget Consultation 2018+ document which ‘sets out the overarching approach the Council is taking to meet the budget reductions and achieve the required savings’ and is committed to ‘make savings of £111m per annum by the end of the next four-year period’. BCC has already cut about £650m from the budget since 2010.
The section titled ‘Current Financial Position’ blames the council’s shrinking financial resources on cuts to government grants and rising inflation. It says that most of the grants must be spent on specific services like schools and housing benefit costs which ‘means that only around a third of expenditure is directly controllable by the Council’.
The council has committed itself to more austerity and to ‘pilot a new system of 100% local retention of business rates’, putting the needs and interests of Brummy businessmen first. 600 children and 120 staff are set to suffer if BCC is able to go ahead with its plan to close 14 day nurseries. Birmingham already has a higher than average child mortality; 7.9 per 1,000 births over the national average of 3.9. The council admits that ‘37% of Birmingham children live in poverty, with many affected by welfare cuts’.
The council says it wants to build 750 ‘affordable’ homes this year but that means 80% of market prices instead of the social housing rate of 60%. Estate Agent Savills predicts a 14% rise in house prices across the West Midlands over the next five years. In 2017 Birmingham’s average house price grew by 7.8%, ahead of the national average of 5.1%. BCC says that it will make only 11.4% of the 89,000 planned homes to be built before 2031 at social rent prices.
Homelessness is on the rise in Birmingham. There are 12,785 homeless people in Birmingham including 55 rough sleepers, up from just eight in 2012 and set to rise again if BCC makes its proposed cuts to services such as the Financial Advice Service and the Young Persons Homeless Hub. BCC blames a ‘growing and ageing population [and] widening cultural diversity and identity’ for putting pressure on housing. It doesn’t mention the more than 4,000 empty houses in the borough.
The section which summarises the proposed cuts only gives brief descriptions of each service and no Impact Assessment is provided. BCC will likely keep this assessment out of the public eye until after the consultation. Then they will internally present and discuss the detailed Financial Plan document. Section 5 tells you how you can have your say; by booking a limited place at this single meeting and/or sending an email which they admit they may not reply to.
The real alternative is for the working class to organise independently and fight to save our services.