Birmingham City Council: Extraordinary meeting set to take place about crippling financial situation

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An extraordinary meeting will take place on Monday (September 25) in a bid for the council to navigate a way out of its dire financial standing as debts rise to £1 billion

The union with the biggest staff representation on Birmingham City Council has demanded an end to the deadlock over an agreement on job evaluation proposals at the crisis-hit authority.

The GMB accused the effectively-bankrupt council of trying to “sidestep best practice” and “limit worker involvement”.  The three main unions representing staff have so far rejected an ultimatum to sign up to a new jobs grading and pay scheme designed to end equal pay chaos.

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The council is effectively bankrupt but could face an equal pay bill of £760 million as a legacy of paying women employees less than men for jobs of similar value. It also has to find £100m to correct a failed IT and finance system that’s also had a massive impact on the council’s ability to complete its accounts.

City solicitor Janie Berry has issued a section 5 notice against the council for its failure to tackle its crippling financial situation while, on Monday, September 25, an extraordinary meeting will take place to finally set a plan of action to put the authority on an even keel.

More than 98% of GMB union members voted to reject the council’s new job evaluation proposals while 96 % voted to say they would be willing to strike over equal pay.

Unions demonstrate outside Birmingham city council. (Photo - Darren Quinton)Unions demonstrate outside Birmingham city council. (Photo - Darren Quinton)
Unions demonstrate outside Birmingham city council. (Photo - Darren Quinton) | Darren Quinton

Trade unions now want to see the council reimplement a scheme recommended by the National Joint Council (NJC) – a negotiating body made up of unions and local government employers – that would consistently determine the value of council roles regardless of sex.

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At a protest outside Birmingham’s full council meeting, joint branch secretary for Unison Birmingham, Caroline Johnson, claimed officers at the city council want to “keep salaries low”. She said: “I think it would suit officers to lower the pay of everybody in the council and one way to do it is to use an untransparent scheme and then lower the pay line for everybody.

“I think there’s an attempt to blame the workforce somehow. It’s either ‘those women who want their equal pay’ or it’s ‘those men who’ve been overpaid’ [who get blamed].

“We stand very firmly with our refuse workers – they’re not overpaid. Women are underpaid when men are not overpaid in this organisation.”

Responding to the council’s latest section 114 setback and the failure to reach an agreement over new, clearer pay grades, GMB organiser Rachel Fagan said: “The council’s proposals lock workers out of the job evaluation process, risking more discrimination and more debt which would threaten the future of the city’s services.

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“Birmingham City Council already owes hundreds of millions of pounds to its low-paid women workers, wages that have been stolen from them over years of discriminatory pay practices, and that bill is growing by the minute.

“For almost two years, GMB has urged the council to work with us in re-implementing the NJC scheme, the gold standard scheme for local government jobs. That would end the discrimination and stop the clock on the city’s mounting equal pay debts.

The council needs to act quickly, but the people of Birmingham can’t afford for them to get this wrong again. Another sticking plaster fix won’t cut it. It’s time for pay justice.”

Elsewhere the council’s Green Party leader, Julien Pritchard, called on senior Labour politicians running the authority “to get a grip”. He said: “What a shambles. This Labour administration is collecting statutory notices like football stickers.

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“A well-run council would not be hitting the headlines on a daily basis, but each new bombshell reveals just how badly the Labour administration is still mis-managing the equal pay crisis.

“It’s hard to imagine a worse situation than the one we currently have. Labour’s mis-management has opened the door to Tory appointed commissioners running our city, endangered vital public assets and public services, and affected the lives of residents in this city.

“The Labour administration needs to get a grip and provide reassurance to residents and staff that this will be resolved. Delivering a job evaluation programme, and actually implementing fair and equal pay across the council, is crucial, not just from stopping this crisis getting any worse, but also a matter of basic fairness and justice for Council staff.

“We need a resolution on the equal pay issue so the liability doesn’t get any worse. We also need solutions to the existing liability and financial crisis that protects our vital services and public assets.”

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Council leader John Cotton issued a public apology to the people of Birmingham this week. He said: “It is clear we are facing a number of challenges in Birmingham so I would like to start by offering an apology on behalf of Birmingham City Council to the people of the city.

“I am apologising for the impact we know this has on citizens. We are having to review all of our council activity, and look at where we make our spend but my priority is we continue focus on front-line service delivery, the things that matter most to the people of this city.”

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