The meeting began with a presentation from Albert Bore, detailing the situation our city faces – £110m of cuts this year on top of the £275m already cut since 2010/11. 27% of staff at the council have already lost their jobs and another 1,000 are expected to be made redundant. Between cuts to central government grants and rising costs due to inflation and population growth, the council are going to have to cut £600m from their budgets – all of which needs to be found from the £1.2bn of the budget that the council control.
The combination of funding cuts and rising costs create “the jaws of doom” that Albert Bore says spells “the end of local government as we know it”. He told us that the cuts cannot be made without completely decommissioning some services, and reducing others to a bare minimum. Rubbish collection was mentioned as an example of something the council have to do by law, but that it doesn’t state how often rubbish needs to be picked up, so they may move from weekly to fortnightly or even monthly collections.
No mention was made in the presentation of the millions wasted on agency workers, on the Service Birmingham contract (Capita outsourced IT provision for the council) which is costing twice as much as planned, or on the salaries of top executives at the council who pocket millions and haven’t faced the wage freezes and cuts that most council workers have.
After the presentation there was time to hear people speak from the floor, and speak they did. There were repeated calls for the council to stand up and fight, to set a deficit budget or at least to be calling for alternatives to cuts. As one person said “i think we’ve had a tone of surrender from this council”, before commenting on how it was no surprise that we are being cut so much.
In fact, Birmingham is being cut at twice the national average – £149 per person, against £74 per person (average across English councils). This incredibly unfair situation is true around the country, with deprived cities facing the largest budget cuts. Birmingham has some of the most deprived wards in the UK, and the highest unemployment of any city. We can least afford to have our support cut, and doing so when the local economy here is struggling will only see inequality and deprivation increasing.
Albert Bore flat out refused to consider setting a deficit budget, saying that it was illegal and they couldn’t do it. He said that when Clay Cross councillors in the 1970s did this, the councillors lost their seats and central government came and took over. Other people from the floor said this was rubbish, that laws had changed and that other examples from the past like Poplar and Liverpool showed that councils could win through setting deficit budgets.
Albert dismissed the calls for a deficit budget as being from “trots and the socialist worker party”. The truth is that last night there were people that I didn’t recognise calling for the same, for the council to do what the people they serve need. The Labour group may not want to see the anger there amongst ordinary working class people they expect to support them, and wish to dismiss the real opposition to cuts by branding it as loony left, but the reality is that the prospect of services being entirely lost, the sheer scale of the cuts, the fact that the economy is failing now because of austerity, is creating a new groundswell of opposition – and it’s angry.
A few people last night mentioned the prospect of riots as a result of cuts. One young person from Handsworth who was there with the Save Birmingham Youth Service campaign talked passionately about how his youth worker had helped him, and without the youth service (which faces further cuts this year) he would probably be following a life of crime. He said he could see another riot and asked “do you really think you can handle what will happen if you cut youth services?”.
Cllr Ian Ward told us that £1m of the youth service cut comes from the Schools Forum, and he promised to go back to them and fight hard to get that money back in the budget. We are sure he will fight hard for it – there were many young people there last night who spoke up about the great things the youth service achieves. But even if he does convince the schools to continue to fund youth services out of their reduced budgets, this will only mean £1m being taken out of another budget. It is why we need to argue against all cuts.
There was also the strong suggestion that the council will find ways to fund the CAB to keep offices open which is really important given the Universal Credit welfare reforms coming next year.
Albert Bore claimed there is “no abject surrender”. He told us he wrote to Eric Pickles a few months ago. He hasn’t got a reply yet, but he’ll be writing another letter – so as you can see, the council are taking action to support us!
Cllr Ian Ward also called for a united campaign against the cuts (although this is likely to actually mean “a fair deal for Birmingham” which would still mean cuts, just not as much). We’ve been here for two years, our next meeting will be in January, see our upcoming events page for details. Our meetings are always open and everyone is welcome, so we hope to see you all there to join a united campaign to stop all the cuts, to defend our services and to implement alternative policies to build towards a sustainable future, reducing the deficit along the way by growing the economy.
Albert Bore has a webchat tonight, so if you were one of the many people who didn’t get an opportunity to speak last night, you can try again.