In their Introduction to the Council’s 61-page Budget Consultation 2019+ document Councillors Ian Ward and Brigid Jones, Leader and Deputy, say:
“This continues to be the most challenging period in Birmingham City Council’s history. Funding for vital services to support the people of Birmingham has reduced by more than £690 million since 2010, with a further £86 million reduction to come over the next four years.” (p4)
The document contains some shocking facts about the impact of these cuts in Government funding (p10):
- CHILDREN IN POVERTY 42.3% More than 2 in 5 children
- INFANT MORTALITY 9% Birmingham 3.9% National average
- 129,000 children (0–15year olds) live in the bottom decile households
- FUEL POVERTY Birmingham is ranked 1st for total number of fuel poor households, and 4th for proportion of fuel poor households
- LIFE EXPECTANCY The difference between most affluent and most deprived areas: 10yrs less for men 7.6yrs for women
These are the brutal consequences of the Tory government’s policies. For the Tories they are just the collateral damage of their programme of austerity. For the Labour Council they should be the subject of an uncompromisingly damning indictment in its Budget report. But they aren’t. There is not a single word of blame for the Government.
For example, you might expect the page headed ‘The national context for Birmingham’s budget’ to explain that it has been imposed on the Council by a Tory government committed to savage ongoing cuts in public spending as part of its neoliberal agenda of paring local government services to the bone and handing over public services to private companies to make profit out of.
But there is not a hint of this. Instead there is a paragraph listing the increases that the government has been forced to make to compensate for the crises in local government provision resulting from government cuts where the private sector hasn’t thought it profitable enough to step in:
The Autumn Budget announcements on 29 October 2018 saw additional £650 million in grants to local authorities for social care – recognising the ongoing pressures on services to some of the most vulnerable in our society. Along with increased investment for local authorities to tackle fly-tipping; meeting air quality obligations; deal with flood prevention and £420 million of additional funding for local authorities for addressing road maintenance plus other smaller sums for local road improvements. (p11)
You might also perhaps expect some mention in a Labour Council budget document that a Labour government would end austerity and begin to restore the proper funding of local councils. But there is none.
The explanation is that the Council’s budget document is a marketing strategy aimed not just at voters but at business. It is designed to present a rosy picture of the future of Birmingham to convince voters and business that even if one in three children live in poverty, business prospects are good and some of the wealth will trickle down eventually. As Councillors Ward and Jones say in their Introduction, “However, there are reasons for optimism in Birmingham and this city is currently attracting record levels of investment”. They don’t say where the investment is going – city centre office blocks and expensive apartments, not regeneration of the run-down suburbs.
In the meantime what will the Council do? The page headed ‘Meeting the challenge: purpose, priorities and service redesign’ says that “Key roles identified for the Council include: Concentrating resources in areas where there is the greatest need, in partnership with others.” (p8).
The impact of the budget cuts
The Council carries out an ‘Equality Analysis’ of the impact of budget cuts. The Council says “It is important to fully understand the impact of the budget proposals on equality groups. The Council, working with others, will need to take action to mitigate the collective impact of any such proposals.” (Birmingham City Council Report to Cabinet 13 November 2018. Item 6 BUDGET CONSULTATION 2019+). Here are the details:
9.6 Public Sector Equality Duty
9.6.1 Each service area is required to undertake the Council’s Equality Analysis on each of the budget proposals, and to have ‘due regard’ to their duties under the Equality Act 2010 before a policy decision is taken by both Full Council in February 2019 and before a decision to implement that policy is then taken by Cabinet/Cabinet Member/Corporate Director which might affect those with relevant characteristics.
9.6.2 An initial high level analysis of the budget proposals has identified that these proposals are likely to impact on particular groups with protected characteristics. Further assessments will be undertaken through the budget consultation process to support detailed impact analysis including exploration of mitigation measures.
9.6.3 The Equality Impact Assessments will be considered by Members before any decisions are made as to the final proposals to be included in the final Budget report to Council. A cumulative equality assessment of the impacts across proposals will also be available with the final budget report for cabinet and full council.
What are these’ protected characteristics’? They are listed in the BUDGET SAVINGS PROPOSAL 2019/20 High Level Initial Cumulative Equality Impact Assessment:
- Gender reassignment
- Marriage and civil partnership, but only in respect of the requirements to have due regard to the need to eliminate discrimination.
- Pregnancy and maternity
- Race – ethnic or national origins, colour or nationality
- Religion or Belief – including lack of belief
- Sex (Gender)
- Sexual orientation.
There is one startling omission from this list: social class. One in three Birmingham children live in poverty, but this is not a ‘protected characteristic’ of equality. But bearing in mind the Council’s commitment about ‘Concentrating resources in areas where there is the greatest need’, let’s examine some of the proposed cuts to see who they impact on most.
Withdrawal of Funding from School Crossing Patrols
The provision of School Crossing Patrols will depend on the decisions of individual schools, and over time the pattern of staffed crossings will vary across the City reflecting schools’ (and parents) ability and willingness to pay for the service.
School Crossing Patrols tend to be concentrated in more urbanised areas of the City, which are likely to correlate to significant minority ethnic populations, including newly arrived communities and those with support needs.
Schools in wealthier areas may more easily raise funding to voluntarily pay for Wardens and this may mean that children in more economically deprived circumstances may be disadvantaged (although poverty is not in itself a protected characteristic there are correlations with disability and the City’s ethnic demographics). The rate of fatal and serious injuries to children (aged 5 to 9) living in the 20% most deprived areas is nine times higher than in the 20% least deprived. 170 of the 189 P1 sites are located in the worst five quintiles of deprivation in the country (IMD 2015) with almost half of those in the worst 10% and a quarter in worst 5% ie the most intensely deprived communities. (Cumulative Equality Impact Assessment, pp11-12)
So stopping funding of crossing patrols will hit the poorest areas most – working class areas mostly with substantial ethnic minority populations, where the risk of injuries to children are far higher than well-off areas, and where schools and parents are much less likely to be able to afford to pay for crossing wardens.
Legal Entitlement & Advice Service (LEAS)
The proposal is to cease the Legal Entitlement and Advice Service budget, used to commission Third Sector partners to deliver independent advice relating to welfare benefits, debt management and employment through open door access at Saltley Advice Centre, the Citizens Advice Birmingham service point in Corporation Street, Birmingham Settlement in Aston and Spitfire Advice Services in Castle Vale.
By the very nature of the service it is accessed by some of the most vulnerable people of Birmingham.
Proposal to cease LEAS budget, which is a non-statutory service, would lead to a reduction in the level of provision available which would have impact on local advice provider’s capacity to meet the demands for services to children and vulnerable older people affected by the Welfare Reform Act. . (Cumulative Equality Impact Assessment, pp15-16)
Who is hit hardest? It’s ‘some of the most vulnerable people of Birmingham’ including ‘services to children and vulnerable older people’.
Birmingham’s Travel Assist Service was established to fulfil the Council’s statutory duty to make transport arrangements for eligible children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) and to provide free transport to eligible children based on distance, safe walking routes and low income.
The majority of the children using the service have requirements related to SEND but the service also supports looked after children; children in temporary accommodation and other vulnerable groups. (Budget Consultation 2019+ Children and Young People document pp10-11)
The aim is to shift responsibility as much as possible to the children and young people themselves and their families. While these alternative arrangements will be assessed, it is inevitable that they will disadvantage many children with vulnerable children and young people.
“When the proposed saving of £0.234m is removed this will leave £182,000 to spend on new books a 56% reduction.
* Approximately 25,000 new books purchased each year compared to the current 50,000 new books purchased each year at a cost of £0.182m p.a.” (Budget Consultation 2019+ Place, p46)
Again, it is the least well-off families who will be most affected because they are less likely to be able to afford to buy books that the libraries will no longer supply.
These cuts will increase the already wide equality gaps that divide the city
These are just some of the cuts that will increase the already wide equality gaps that divide the city. There is one more that isn’t part of this year’s budget – the decision was made in 2017 – but is being implemented right now: the sell-off or closure of the Council‘s 14 Day Nurseries, serving some of the poorest areas of the city.
The Council says ‘Further assessments will be undertaken through the budget consultation process to support detailed impact analysis including exploration of mitigation measures.’ But the assessment the Council has already made in the examples above, all of which admit damaging increases in inequalities, demonstrate that the Council has made the wrong choices about where to save money.
According to the Budget Consultation 2019+ document the Council has a controllable budget of £1.1billion. There must be savings that can be made in less damaging areas, such as support for business, or the Council subsidies to the Commonwealth Games. It’s a question of priorities. And if the Council can’t find them, they should open the books to a Public Inquiry into the Council’s finances and let the citizens of Birmingham decide the priorities.
Raise these issues at the Budget consultation meeting on Wednesday 19 December 6-8pm in the Council House.
To book a place go to the Council website at https://www.birminghambeheard.org.uk/economy/bccbudgetconsultation2019/
Where you can find the Council documents
Budget Consultation 2019+ and Lists of cuts by directorates https://www.birmingham.gov.uk/info/20155/council_budget/1821/budget_consultation_2019
BUDGET SAVINGS PROPOSAL 2019/20 High Level Initial Cumulative Equality Impact Assessment http://bit.ly/2zV3aNo
Council’s Report to Cabinet 13 November 2018 https://www.birminghambeheard.org.uk/economy/bccbudgetconsultation2019/supporting_documents/2018_11_06%20Consultation%20Cabinet%20report%20v7%20FINAL.pdf
Birmingham City Council Report to Cabinet 13 November 2018 Item 6 BUDGET CONSULTATION 2019+ https://birmingham.cmis.uk.com/birmingham/Meetings/tabid/70/ctl/ViewMeetingPublic/mid/397/Meeting/10569/Committee/2/SelectedTab/Documents/Default.aspx