Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight speaks out on Birmingham City Council financial crisis

Steven Knight, creator of the Peaky Blinders TV drama, has spoken out about the financial crisis at Birmingham City Council
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The creator of Peaky Blinders has given his verdict on the financial crisis at Birmingham City Council - and whether it will impact the city’s growing reputation as a city of culture.

Earlier this week, the council finally revealed the true extent of the budget cuts on the way as it faces an enormous budget gap of at least £300 million.

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The Labour-run authority has found itself in the bleak predicament due to a number of issues including rising demand for services, an equal pay fiasco, the disastrous implementation of a new IT and finance system and the impact of years of austerity.

As well as hikes in council tax, the council’s budget proposal includes a huge array of cuts that could impact a number of services – from day centres and youth services to bin collections and community libraries.

Birmingham City Council set to axe 50% of grants to cultural organisations

They also reveal a dramatic impact on the city’s cultural offer. Under the heading of ‘Cultural Organisation Grant reductions’ the council states that, excluding the B:Music premises grant, it intends to ‘reduce other grants by 50 per cent in year one and 100 per cent in year two’.

However, the budget papers and the deep anxiety they will cause among Birmingham’s residents were a stark contrast to the mood at a HS2 event held on Tuesday morning, which explored the impact the project was having on regeneration and investment in the region.

Peaky Blinders creator Steven KnightPeaky Blinders creator Steven Knight
Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight

‘A city is its culture’ - Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight speaks out on Birmingham City Council Budget cuts

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Speaking at the event, Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight CBE spoke about Digbeth Loc. Studios, which has aspirations of fostering the growth of the next wave of creative talent and drawing investment to the city.

Asked about the budget cuts unfolding at Birmingham City Council however, Mr Knight said: “I think when you get a council situation like this, my first concern is people who are in much more difficult circumstances than myself. There are people in difficult situations and that probably should be the priority.

“However, a city is its culture as well and we’re doing well after the Commonwealth Games – lots of stuff going on, lots of stuff happening in Digbeth. It’s like the shoots are coming through, we’ve got to cultivate them and make sure we look after them.”

He continued: “The situation is what it is. Digbeth Loc. never really depended upon public money and we began with that intention because it’s a thriving industry and we know business is going to be successful.

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“But we want to be in a city which has an environment where the arts are valued correctly. I can understand people being worried but I always think in creative industries you have to try to thrive in circumstances where people don’t get what you’re doing for a bit. Financial hardship comes with the territory but hopefully when decisions are being made, people don’t think arts are a luxury because I don’t think they are.”

Council leader John CottonCouncil leader John Cotton
Council leader John Cotton

Birmingham City Council Leader John Cotton reacts to budget cuts to culture 

Asked about the Cultural Organisation Grant reductions on Monday, council leader John Cotton said it was an emblem of the difficult choices they have to make amid the need to also deliver frontline services to vulnerable people. In an ideal world I’d prefer not to be in this position but we are having to cut our cloth accordingly,” he said.

“We’ve got lots of investment coming into this city, lots of people locating businesses and jobs here,” he insisted. “I think there’s conversations that we need to have around how we work together as a city as a whole, not just the city council, around protecting and supporting some of our cultural institutions.”

He said those conservations have already started happening and that the council needs to focus on how it works in partnership and collaboration with others as it becomes a “smaller organisation.”

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Speaking to the media on Monday, he apologised for the spending reductions and the council tax increase. “We have no alternatives but to face these challenges head on,” he said. “We will do absolutely whatever is necessary to put this council back on a stable and sound financial footing.

“The level of savings contained in these proposals are unprecedented and the council will continue to face financial pressures as it seeks to meet its wide ranging statutory duties and to protect those residents in the city most in need of support.”

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