‘We need an urgent, rapid public inquiry into Birmingham City Council’s dire financial situation’

Calls for a public inquiry into Birmingham City Council’s effective bankruptcy intensify
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As Birmingham braces itself for a huge wave of cuts to local services, there have been calls for a public inquiry into how the city council found itself engulfed in crisis.

The Labour-run authority is currently in an alarming financial position due to a number of factors such as an equal pay fiasco, the disastrous implementation of a new IT and finance system, rising demand for services and years of austerity cuts.

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Birmingham City Council (BCC) now faces an enormous budget gap of at least £300 million – which could mean services in the city being slashed, job losses at the authority and a council tax rise for residents.

Speaking at a fiery full meeting of the City Council on Tuesday (February 6), BCC Conservative leader Robert Alden insisted that Brummies deserve answers and argued that they need an independent inquiry into how the council’s equal pay crisis unfolded “sooner rather than later.”

“Brummies still don’t know when the inquiry will begin and when it will end,” he said. “Labour are about to hit Brummies with a double whammy of increased taxes and reduced services – that’s why they want answers. We need an urgent, rapid inquiry and its outcome shared with the public. No more dither, no more delays – give Brummies their inquiry now.”

During the tense meeting, Liberal Democrat councillor Morriam Jan argued the impact of expected cuts to local services would be “severe” and warned they could impact future generations.

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“People’s lives will be forever altered by what is going on in the city right now,” she claimed. “Big mistakes were made here. We still don’t know the detail of what went wrong and when – and how can you fix what you don’t understand?”

Birmingham Council HouseBirmingham Council House
Birmingham Council House

The leader of the Liberal Democrats at the council, Roger Harmer, also joined calls for an inquiry to take place soon, saying one challenge the authority faced was to address the failings “that helped to enable the current disaster.”

“The first step in doing this is to come to accurately understand why it happened,” he said. “The only way to have some sort of consensus on what went wrong is to have an independent inquiry.”

He went on to argue that that inquiry needs to be quick and done in good time ahead of the next set of council elections in 2026, warning “Getting a full and precise report in three year’s time would be next to useless.”

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Addressing such criticism from opposing parties, BCC leader John Cotton said he pledged to be “open and transparent” about the council’s challenges from the first day he took on leadership and added he was pushing the government to carry out a review into the authority.

“I am keen this review gets under way so this council can learn from the failings we’ve seen, ensure there is proper accountability and move on so we can build a stronger council and deliver for the people of this city,” the Labour councillor said.

The prospect of an inquiry was debated at Tuesday’s meeting after a motion was put forward by Conservative councillors, calling for an inquiry into the equal pay crisis to begin no later than September 2024 and to publish its findings by December 2025.

Discussing a proposed amendment to the motion, Cllr Cotton said: “Our amendment makes clear that while there are challenges specific to Birmingham, there is also a financial crisis created by national government that is driving councils of every political stripe over that financial cliff edge.

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“This takes me onto the final change to this motion,” he continued. “This acknowledges that I have already requested as leader that the review commences as soon as practicable. The ball around starting this review is now firmly in the government’s court and we absolutely stand ready to play our part in participating in that review.”

Following a vote among the councillors, the motion was carried with the amendment put forward by councillors John Cotton and Miranda Perks.

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