Blighted futures – A report back on the budget consultation meetings

IMG_0194The final budget consultation meeting is tomorrow, Tuesday 18th, from 6pm to 8pm, Committee Rooms 3 and 4, The Council House. Victoria Square, B1 1BB. Albert Bore will also be doing a webchat on Wednesday evening. This is a report from an activist of West Midlands Social Work Action Network:

As Sir Albert Bore tours the city consulting on a package of £110m worth of cuts to the Council’s 2013-14 budget, his plan for Austerity-lite In Birmingham consist of simple proposition that ‘where reasonably possible we will protect the most vulnerable’. His further qualification is that he will offer that ‘protection only for as long as possible’.

At climax of the Bore’s budget PowerPoint is his presentation of the ‘jaws of doom’ graph, a year on year projection of ever increasing costs and pressures against the ever declining grant settlement. As Margaret Thatcher declared ‘there is no alternative’ Bore has adopted the ‘jaws of doom’ as his TINA mantra as to the inevitability of imposing massive cuts in Birmingham.

This year’s proposed budget cuts fall disproportionately on to services for Children and Young people, with a total cut of £24m under consideration. Bore claims that the budget ‘black holes’ left behind by the previous Council administration fall within the CYP budget, and to make up for these unrealised cuts new and deeper cuts will have to be made this coming year.

There have been compelling interventions at the consultation meetings from young people challenging the likely impact of the cuts on young people’s futures. Nearly £1m is being taken out of both the Youth and Play services over the next two years. Young people have spoken out against the threat to Birmingham Youth service, one young woman said the Youth service ‘reaches out to everyone, inspires them, keeps them off the street and if you take that away what have you got?’

A young speaker from Voice in Power told Albert Bore on Saturday that the consequence of cutting mental health services was that more young people would end up in prison or commit suicide by not receiving this help. The funding for the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services will be cut by two thirds over two years and the proposal envisages redundancies among a highly qualified staff group. This vital service according to the Council factsheet ‘provides direct help to children and adolescents who are experiencing emotional/mental health difficulties in some cases the result of experience of abuse, neglect and trauma.’ By definition young people referred to this service have a high level of complex need.

The implications of reducing the Connexions service to all but a statutory rump at a time of increasing youth unemployment in the city has been spelt out by Connexions workers at the meetings.

There will also be massive cuts to Voluntary sector organisations providing a range children’s services, the funding will be cut by 100% over a two year period. Over 5,500 young people and their families will cease receiving ‘preventative, targeted and specialist support’ with the withdrawal of this funding. A member of the public said this would seriously damage the future of small and medium sized voluntary organisations many of whom are already under threat. They are able to reach young people and families who wouldn’t normally engage with the statutory sector.

Cllr Brigid Jones the Cabinet member for young people has spoken at the meetings and claimed that the one place where both the economic and moral case for cuts coincides is the closure of further children’s homes. This was challenged the audience on the grounds that the money from closing residential units is not to be reinvested in the development of foster care services and represents an overall loss of placements.

That the Labour Group is protecting the most vulnerable does not stand consideration instead the package of cuts is premised on a switch to the bare statutory minimum. The key feature of the budget cuts in children’s services is a massive retrenchment to provide a narrow range of statutory services for safeguarding children, e.g. child protection, and for the Council to meet its responsibilities as a corporate parent to Looked after children. Important services for vulnerable children and ‘children in need’ are to be ‘decommissioned’ and closed particularly in the voluntary sector.

The Every Child Matters agenda of the last New Labour Government saw significant investment in children’s services with the national development of Sure Start and Children’s Centre’s as one of the best known examples. There was the creation of an integrated system of tiered services based on the different types of needs of children and their families. Timely early intervention was also to be offered to children to support them within their families and to prevent them from reaching the point where they cross the ‘significant harm threshold’.

Bore’s proposed cuts represent the first stage of the dismantling of one of the few progressive achievements of the last Labour Government. These cuts also come at a time of increasing social need as young people form an increasing part of the population of Birmingham, and the city’s already high levels of child poverty are increasing as the direct outcome of the Government’s austerity policies and family hardship will intensify as the Con-Dem’s welfare reforms come online.

By dismantling a wide range of preventative services at a time of increasing stress and difficulty for families is only likely to lead to worsening outcomes for young people across the city and to increase the likelihood that more young people enter the statutory care system through family breakdown or via child protection referral. These cuts are the ultimate false economy.

Having announced the ‘end of local government as we know it’, Sir Albert has appointed himself as the technocrat in chief and harbinger of doom as he implements massive cuts required to balance next year’s budget based on the Government’s Grant settlement. In doing so he is declaring war on Birmingham’s young people and their futures.

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