Birmingham City Council have today announced that they have achieved a freeze in council tax for another year as they outlined budget spending cut proposals.
As part of a government offer, councils were offered a grant from central government to the value of around a 2.5% rise in council tax. To receive the grant, aimed at encouraging and assisting councils to help reduce budgets and contribute to the national deficit, the city council had to work out ways to reduce its spending by a further £69 million in the financial year 2012/2013.
As part of their budget review, Birmingham City Council encouraged residents across the city to participate in a public consultation which ran from October last year until early January 2012. 87% of responders to the public budget consultation supported a freeze in council tax.
Today, council leaders have announced that, following the results of the consultation, the budget spending cuts will be met and council tax for 2012/13 will see no increase.
The two main areas of spending cuts will be in the Adults and Communities directorate with a cut of almost £30 million and the Children, Young People and Families directorate with a reduction of around £22.5 million.
The reduced budget for CYPF includes a cut of £5.3 million to children’s centre provision and £4 million from the Connexions youth advisory service. Three of the city’s six Connexions offices have already closed and the Northfield and Yardley branches are now threatened, which will leave just one central office for the whole city.
The consultation saw 3000 responses including nearly 1500 completing an online survey, almost 400 attending public meetings and around 550 individual written responses.
In their budget review for 2012/13, due to be presented to full council on Monday (February 13th 2012), Birmingham City Council will reveal where savings will be made. Council leaders claim that modern, efficient services will make the best possible use of taxpayer money.
Cllr Mike Whitby, Leader of Birmingham City Council, said: “The nation still faces an unprecedented financial challenge as efforts to tackle the structural deficit continue, and Birmingham will play its full part in meeting the challenge head on.
“But we are also mindful that we have to deliver the best possible services to a city of a million people – it is massive task but we are presenting a budget that protects the vulnerable, encourages investment, improves job prospects and makes sure that Birmingham continues to be a clean, green and safe city.
“Our zero per cent Council Tax increase – delivered now for the second year in a row – in particular protects those on low and fixed incomes, pensioners and the vulnerable. For all Birmingham people this will mean, effectively, more money in their pockets to spend on their priorities.
“Our plans for the year ahead build on ensuring Birmingham is a regional centre of growth. We have a proud history of innovation, entrepreneurship and resilience in times of hardship, and the budget for the year ahead will ensure the city is in the best possible position for this to continue.”
Cllr Paul Tilsley, Deputy Leader of Birmingham City Council, added: “Drawing up a budget in such challenging times is not an easy task, but the savings we need to make next year are comparable with what we expected when we set our last budget 12 months ago.
“But by staging the most extensive period of budget consultation ever undertaken in Birmingham, we have sought to identify the things that people value the most, and present a package of proposals that best serves those needs and wishes.
“As a result it is hugely encouraging that our four key priorities have attracted overwhelming public support and that we have been able to assemble a package of savings and efficiencies which do not resort to drastic measures, as experienced elsewhere in the public sector.
“Put simply, the city will continue to be provided with quality services. The eligibility criteria for receiving adult social care will remain the same, bins will still be emptied weekly and no libraries are to be closed – indeed the new Library of Birmingham will be completed in 2013.
“In addition, leisure centres and swimming baths will remain open, roads will continue to be repaired and children will still be educated at our schools.”
Labour candidate for Longbridge Jess Phillips said: “I am flabbergasted by the statement from Cllr Tilsley that the consultations “sought to identify the things that people value the most, and present a package of proposals that best serves those needs and wishes”. This in no way represents the budget consultation event that I attended where the public were angered at the suggestion that they should pick which services mattered least to them. I witnessed extreme anger at the suggestion that a mother fighting for her children centre should be asked to suggest cuts from services to vulnerable elderly people to protect the thing she cared about. The idea that there was any level of “overwhelming public support” at these consultations, suggests to me that Cllr Tilsley and Cllr Whitby think what amounts to an angry bun-fight and a dissatisfied and emotional audience is how we, their citizens give them the thumbs up. I suppose it is difficult for them to judge if an angry mob is in fact a happy compliant audience as I do not recall their attendance at these meetings.
“I went along to the consultation hoping it would be an opportunity to talk about innovative ideas of how to retain services with new approaches, but what actually happened was we were presented with a series of suggested cuts and asked to pick what mattered to us. Birmingham City Council undoubtedly faces difficult decisions and national governement cuts to budgets that we would all prefer did not have to happen, but, from the consultation that I attended, it is grossly misleading to suggest that the mandate for these cuts came from the people.The Tory led coalition council should take responsibility for where the axe will fall and not suggest that they listened to us.” she said.
Jess added: “Birmingham City Council had a real opportunity to co-design services and hear from services users, residents and citizens about what needed to change and what they could or could not live without, instead they asked us to rob services from our neighbours for our own benefit, it was a shambles!”