Political figures & unions react as the government prepares to send in officials to run Birmingham
The government will appoint commissioners to help to run Birmingham City Council after the authority’s effectively declared itself bankrupt at the beginning of September
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A number of political figures in Birmingham have been responding to the news that the government will appoint commissioners to take over Birmingham City Council.
Michael Gove confirmed the news on Tuesday (September 19) and said he will launch a local inquiry into the authority after it declared itself effectively bankrupt in August.
The Communities Secretary said he was “satisfied that Birmingham City Council is failing to comply with its best value duty” after it issued a Section 114 notice. Mr Gove revealed that the Government is prepared to extend additional financial support to Birmingham, although he warned of “tough decisions” ahead.
He said that the commissioners would be in charge of the council’s financial governance, and the authority would be expected to prepare and agree an improvement plan within the next six months.
Mr Gove said :“In line with the Local Government Act 1999 therefore, I can announce that I am today writing to the council to set out my proposal to intervene and to appoint commissioners and that I intend to launch a local inquiry in due course.
“I do not take these decisions lightly, but it is imperative in order to protect the interests of the residents and taxpayers of Birmingham, and to provide ongoing assurance to the whole local government sector.”
Michael Gove said he will propose to issue statutory directions to the council and to appoint commissioners to exercise certain functions of the council as required. He also outlined his intention to launch a local inquiry to consider how Birmingham City Council got itself into the situation in the first place.
Birmingham MPs and council leader react to government intervention
John Cotton, leader of Birmingham City Council, welcomed the news. In a statement, he said: “We welcome today’s announcement and will now work with DLUHC and the commissioners to get the council back on a sound financial footing.
“On becoming Leader, I was concerned that there was a lack of senior capacity at the council to deal with the issues that we face, which is why we asked Secretary of State Michael Gove and the Local Government Association to help us rebuild that capacity and support us to get the budget on track. Today’s announcement is an important step in that direction.
“Although this is a challenging time, and comes after a decade of cuts totalling £1 billion, we will make the tough decisions needed to transform the council, restore financial sustainability, and deliver the services that the people of Birmingham deserve.”
Speaking in Parliament, Labour MP Jess Phillips (Birmingham, Yardley) said: “Obviously this is, you know, not the situation that anybody would want to be in.”
She asked how the citizens of the city “get any intervention in this particular process”, adding: “We cannot just have a steamrollering. There has to be some level of accountability also for the commissioners.”
West Midlands Mayor Andy Street said he believes Gove’s move to appoint commissioners is ‘absoloutely the right thing to do’.
He said it’s critical the commissioners now work with the city council to ‘protect services for residents and businesses.’ See his statement in full below.
Union issue warning to commissioners
Meanwhile, Unite general secretary Sharon Graham has said the government’s appointed commissioners must make sure city council members’ jobs aren’t at risk.
“No one should be under any illusion, Unite will never sit back and allow our Birmingham city council members’ jobs to be sacrificed to pay for others’ failures,” she said.
“If there is any attempt to cut the jobs, pay or conditions of our members, Unite will fight those proposals using every resource available to the union.
“Whenever there is a crisis its always working people who get targeted to pay the price. But our members did not create the crisis and if unelected faceless bureaucrats think that we will allow the livelihoods of workers to be axed in order to pay for this mess, then they need a rapid reality check.”