The Council’s Budget Consultation is not a consultation about the whole Budget, only about the Council’s planned cuts.
On 19 December the Council held a public Budget Consultation meeting. But it was a rigged consultation because we weren’t given the full Budget plans, only the proposals for the cuts that the Council leadership wants to make.
The cuts the Council has decided on amount to £50 million this year. But the Council’s total Controllable Expenditure is £1.1billion. The planned savings amount to just 4.5% of the total Council Budget. Where are the plans for the remaining 95.5%? There isn’t a word about them in the consultation document. Why are they kept secret and not spelled out in the report? (Of course the Council will say they aren’t secret, they are published somewhere – but this is meaningless if they don’t say where to find them.)
The Council leadership says “The purpose of this consultation is… to invite the public and partners to consider these savings proposals, provide feedback and, if they wish, make alternative suggestions.” (Report to Cabinet 13 November). But how can we make alternative suggestions if we aren’t given the full picture?
The Council Budget Equality Impact Assessment document says explicitly that the cuts they propose will hit the poorest and most vulnerable hardest. Here’s just one shocking statistic: more than 2 in 5 children in Birmingham live in poverty. There must be savings that can be made out of the 92% of the hidden budget that will cause less damage to these children and their families than the cuts the Council leadership plans.
Do the councillors really believe that if the Council leadership consulted on the whole 100% of the Budget, not just its selected four and a half percent, the citizens of Birmingham would say yes, we want to cut Travel Assist for pupils in need, school crossing patrols, half the libraries’ books budget, the Legal Entitlement & Advice Service (“accessed by some of the most vulnerable people of Birmingham”), and the other damaging cuts in the proposed Budget? (Not to mention the Council day nurseries to be privatised or closed and the Home Care workers currently in dispute.)
That is one reason why it is a token consultation. But there is another. The introduction to the Budget Consultation 2019+ November 2018 by Councillors Ian Ward and Brigid Jones says “We know that the decisions laid out in this document will affect many of your lives, which is why it is so important for us to hear from you, and that you take the time to talk to us.” The Report to Cabinet (13 November) says “Comments from the public will be invited at face-to-face meetings with the public….” Note it says “meetings” plural. And yet they arranged just one solitary consultation meeting.
That is why the leaflet given out at the meeting from BATC, Save Our Nurseries and Birmingham Keep Our NHS Public says:
- We call for open local meetings to be set up across the city by the Council, to which ordinary citizens, community and campaigning groups are invited to participate.
- These meetings would have the aim of drawing up a charter of service needs, campaigning for Birmingham’s money to be returned and developing a vision for a new people’s city, a new Birmingham.
These meetings could be the catalyst for a mass campaign, led by the Council, against the Government austerity policies which are the cause of the relentless cuts in the Council’s budgets.
Yet not only did the Council organise no such meetings, it didn’t even lay the blame for the cuts on the Government. It should be the subject of an uncompromisingly damning indictment in its Budget report. But it isn’t.
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. There is not a single word of criticism of the Government in the Budget documents. As Martin Sullivan of Friends of the Libraries of Birmingham said in the Council House meeting, “Where’s the anger?”.