Birmingham City Council held a public consultation meeting at Bournville College last night. The meeting was to allow members of the public to express any opinions and concerns re the budget cut proposals for 2012/13.
Around thirty people attended the event. Northfield MP Richard Burden, Longbridge Labour councillors Ian Cruise and Andy Cartwright and Northfield council candidate for Labour Brett O’Reilly all attended the meeting. No local Conservative councillors were present, nor were any of the council administration.
Parents from Charles House were in attendance, stating their case once again against the threatened closure of the respite facility for disabled children.
Brett O’Reilly said he had left the meeting after an hour as he felt very disheartened by procedings. He sent us the following:
“For a start, in a Tory led cuts consultation, there were no Tory councillors or candidates to be seen! The meeting was set out in a pre-set agenda decided by…. Birmingham City Council!! I thought this was a public consultation?
Anyway, a presentation was given by a stand in representative as the scheduled presenter had apparently lost her voice (I’m not suprised, had I been delivering it I think I’d have shirked it too!) which talked about various methods of streamlining our services and making them more ‘efficient’. In other words, cutting them.
The first insult is that central government are offering BCC a grant of 2.5% of its budget….. But if they raise council tax the offer is withdrawn!! If with this grant, the council were allowed to raise council tax by an equal amount, that would be 5% of the total council budget without cutting anything! A cost spread over every resident in Birmingham and not on the shoulders of the young, elderly or vulnerable.
What was really concerning was the contradictions on almost every page. Firstly, I challenged the misleading statement issued by BCC every time Charles House is mentioned: “Children in private / family care achieve better outcomes than those in childrens homes….”. This is misleading and simply not true, by admission of BCC, when it comes to children with special needs or disabilities that receive respite care.
A further oxymoron, following a page dedicated to cutting funding for childrens homes (stating clearly that the places will be picked up by foster carers), there is a further page explaining how the fostering service will be ‘streamlined’ as part of the cuts programme. There are not enough foster carers as it is with the childrens homes open, where is the logic in saying cut both and the magical private sector will pick up the slack? (sorry for the sarcasm I am just extremely angry that I even considered that there may be some sort of logicical consultation!!)
I left the meeting around an hour before it finished as I simply could not condone the way in which it was being chaired. It became farcical to the point that when challenged with a motion (whether I agreed or disagreed is not the point) and asked whether it was a democratic forum, the ‘independant chair’ replied ‘this is not a trade union or Labour Party open forum…’ Following this statement we were then ‘told’ by the chair which discussion group we would be part of, at which point me and my wife left.
Overall I feel this was a thinly veiled attempt to justify, what I believe now more than ever, cuts that are politically and not financially or economically motivated.”
Richard Burden sent us the following comments after attending the meeting:
“There was a lot of anger at tonight’s meeting about the cuts Birmingham Council are proposing.
I guess it’s not surprising that tonight, some of the brunt of that anger was born by the people who the council have commissioned to run these consultation meetings but we shouldn’t really shoot the messenger here. It’s the Conservative/Lib Dem administration on the Council that are making these decisions and they should answer for them. Unfortunately, none of them were at the meeting tonight to so.
But it doesn’t mean the questions are going away. The fact is that there are big holes in the logic of the Council’s budget proposals.
For example, in their work to protect vulnerable children, they say they want to move towards more children being placed with foster parents rather than taken into care. But in the next breath they say they are looking to trim what they spend on supporting adoption and fostering.
In other parts of their document they say they want to make greater use of the voluntary sector but we know that in practice voluntary organisations are being squeezed by the Council.
And there are real concerns that respite care in places like Charles House could be under threat, and that Birminghan could cut the funding for the Supporting People programme – which helps vulnerable adults to lead more independent lives- by an even greater anount than the Conservative-led Government is demanding.”