Birmingham City Council approves ‘damaging’ budget cuts including 21% council tax hike

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Council tax will rise by 10 per cent in each of the next two years as Birmingham City Council approved the budget cuts on Tuesday

Birmingham City Council has this evening (Tuesday, March 5) approved budget cuts that will include a 21% council tax increase and cuts to key services over the next two years.

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

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During the meeting on Tuesday afternoon, councillors voted on the cuts that will see the loss of up to 600 council jobs, bin collections reduced to fortnightly, as well as cuts to adult social care and children's services. The city council has received special dispensation from the Government to increase council tax by 10 per cent in each of the next couple of years.

Opposition councillors on Birmingham City Council had fought back against alarming budget proposals on Tuesday, which have sparked deep anxiety among residents. Earlier today, the full council debated a budget proposal which includes a huge wave of proposed cuts to local services as well as alarming hikes in council tax.

Youth services, day centres and early help services are all impacted by the cuts and ‘reviews’ as well as bin collections, libraries, cultural organisation grants, leisure fees, street lighting and more. The past few weeks have seen concern over the council’s budget proposals spill over, with protests being held in the city centre, campaigns launched to save libraries and councillors becoming tearful during meetings.

The largest local authority in Europe - Birmingham City Council -declared itself effectively bankrupt in September last year after being hit by a multi-million pound pay claim.

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The Labour-run authority ended up in this bleak situation due to Birmingham specific issues, such as an equal pay fiasco and the disastrous implementation of a new IT and finance system, as well as other factors such as rising demand for services and the impact of years of austerity.

During the Meeting of the City Council on Tuesday, councillors from opposition parties spoke about the impact that the council’s cuts could have on Brummies across the city. Liberal Democrat leader at BCC Roger Harmer described it as “the most damaging budget impacting our city in living memory.”

Birmingham skylineBirmingham skyline
Birmingham skyline | nakaret4 - stock.adobe.com

“People say that the darkest hour is just before dawn,” he continued. “The threat of this budget is that we have years of winter to go through, before there is any sign of spring.

“We see residents impoverished by ballooning council tax bills and we see the damage to our future done by strangulation of key services.” We have no confidence whatsoever in your ability to deliver what you propose,” he told the Labour administration.

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The Liberal Democrat group put forward an amendment, which included proposals to ‘reset’ the Ladywood regeneration scheme among others.

John CottonJohn Cotton
John Cotton | LDRS

Conservative leader at BCC Robert Alden similarly said residents face a “double whammy of higher taxes and fewer services.”

“Residents face a future where every time they go to a library they’ll find it closed, every time they visit a youth centre it’ll be shut, they’ll see parks no longer being maintained,” he continued. What happened to the ‘golden decade’ that Labour promised?”

He went on to urge councillors to back the Conservative group’s own proposed amendment, which they said offer alternatives, in order “to save vital services.”

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During his speech, council leader John Cotton apologised to the residents of Birmingham and again argued that years of austerity had played a role in the authority’s downfall. “The budget before council today is not the budget I entered politics to set,” he said. “It is not a budget I ever envisaged for our city.

“Sadly however, it is a budget that reflects the significant challenges currently facing this council. Because the harsh reality is that we must make cuts of over £300 million over the next two financial years in order to receive Exceptional Financial Support from Government and to meet the challenge set by the Commissioners.”

He went on to describe the cuts as “unprecedented” in scale before adding that he “unreservedly” apologises to the people of Birmingham.

He continued that he was committed to putting the city council back on track however, saying: “We will not get another chance to do so.

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Progress was being made on Birmingham specific issues, he added. These include the implementation of the Oracle IT system and the historic equal pay liability.

He then insisted that the mistakes made in Birmingham had not occurred in a vacuum before warning there was a “raging crisis” across local government.

“I am under no illusions what this budget will mean for our communities,” he said. “The decisions we must make here today will have a lasting impact on every single neighbourhood in Birmingham.”

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