Birmingham City Council has ‘no right to sell off our historical assets’ says Carl Chinn
The city’s famous historian Carl Chinn says Birmingham’s cultural assets ‘morally’ belong to the people of Birmingham
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Birmingham’s best-known historian has accused the city council of being “obsessed” with spending money on “prestige” projects instead of taking care of the “basics”.
Prof Carl Chinn said residents faced service cuts and tax hikes through no fault of their own and called for resources like gas, electricity, and water to come into public ownership to make money to be invested back into the city.
He spoke as Levelling Up secretary Michael Gove today announced government comissioners would run Birmingham for up to five years after the authority effectively went bankrupt – admitting it couldn’t balance its books and owed over £1 billion in equal pay claims.
Mr Chinn said: “The problem has been caused by this perfect storm of two winds coming together.
“Winds of upset and upheaval for the people of Birmingham and national government and a local government that have failed.”
He criticised the council’s handling of the equal pay issue and a costly IT system failure but also pointed to the “obsession with spending money on prestige projects instead of focusing on the basics”.
He said: “This is a perfect storm for the people caused through no fault of their own.
“We have some of the highest rates of child poverty in the country, some of the most deprived neighbourhoods in the country, we have huge levels of housing stock that is deteriorating. And it must be really difficult for people living in districts that need investments to see the slogan, ‘be bold, be Birmingham’, instead it would have been much better to have ‘be basic, be Birmingham’.”
Prof Chinn said he believed working class people had been pushed out of the city centre in favour of hundreds of luxury apartments and conference centres.
He called for housing for families and the homeless and blamed the government too for it’s “cuts, cuts, cuts” and for “sucking the life out of local government”.
The way to fix it, he said, was to return to a system of public ownership of resources by Birmingham citizens.
This approach was taken by famed Victorian businessman and politician Joseph Chamberlain and led to an American journalist declaring Birmingham as “the best run city in the world”.
“I grew up up with the remnants of a city state where we had our own police force, our own municipal bank,” Prof Chinn said.
“My view is we should municipalise, once again, the utilities essential for the welfare and wellbeing of the people Birmingham. Money is power in this country, and if we had our own money, it would encourage more people to vote in elections, and more people to participate in politics.”
If Birmingham owned gas, electricity, and water companies, Prof Chinn said, it could invest the profits into the city.
But he said he also thought the city’s leadership should make more of its culture and history and said the suggestion of selling off assets like the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery was “abhorrent”.
Instead, the city should capitalise on its rich cultural heritage and reinvest the money back into the city’s services to benefit everyone.
‘Concil have no right to sell off our historical and cultural assets’
He said: “I want to say this to Mr Gove, Mr Street, and to the leaders of the council: they have no right to sell off our historical and cultural assets.
“The council may legally own the museum and art gallery and the Aston Hall, and the Sarehole Mill and the others, but morally they belong to the people of Birmingham. When you walk in the museum and art gallery, their motto is ‘by the gains of industry we promote art’.”
He outlined the history of industrialists investing in art and culture and how the working people of Birmingham saved Aston Hall from demolition in the 1850’s, leading to the first official visit by a reigning monarch in Birmingham’s history.
“These buildings are not just buildings, they’re assets to the city.
“I’m not trying to save buildings for the sake of it but because we should be making money on those assets.
“I challenge Mr Gove, (West Midlands mayor Andy) Street and (council leader John) Cotton for me to take them on a tour of our city to see the potential in these historic buildings.”