Birmingham City Council Proposes Budget Cuts - We Won't Accept Our City Being Destroyed!

Birmingham City Council has finally released its much-delayed draft budget after issuing a Section 114 notice in September 2023 and being taken over by six, £1,500-per-day, commissioners.

One reason for the council’s financial mess is the overspending on its new IT system Oracle. It has already cost £130 million and is still not fit for purpose, with invoices and payments not documented accurately. Some newly retired council staff have been waiting months to have their pensions released!

The draft budget has sent fear through the city as the proposed cuts will hit deeper than those carried out following central government funding cuts since 2010. Birmingham residents are much worse off than they were 14 years ago, these attacks will be felt across all aspects of the city. 43% of Birmingham residents are living in areas that are ranked in the 10% most deprived areas in the UK and 37% of children are living in poverty.

The budget will completely reshape the entire council service with 600 jobs to go, cuts to youth services, closures of adult day centres, reduction of bin collections and road maintenance, cuts to SEND support, library closures, 100% cuts to arts and culture, further dimming of street lights and council tax increased by 21% over two years. The list goes on.

These cuts are set to plug a £300 million budget shortfall over two years but will not cover the £867 million equal pay claims. The equal pay issue is something that could have been resolved decades ago if the council leaders had worked with trade unions on updating the pay and grading job evaluations. Instead, the council is using it as a divisive tactic between council employees and Birmingham residents as the reason behind this financial mess. 

This crisis is the result of a decade of underfunding. Since 2010, Birmingham’s funding from central government has been slashed in half. When the Labour Party took control of the council in 2012, they could have set a no-cuts budget and started a mass campaign to demand more funding. Instead, they implemented the Tory-imposed cuts.

Asset stripping

Now, instead of demanding more from central government, council bosses are only prepared to beg the Tories for a £1.2 billion loan – on the government’s condition that Birmingham be asset stripped and raided to pay it back. This will include the flogging of the £500 million ‘athletes village’ flagship housing scheme which, two years on, isn’t even finished, and hasn’t housed a single person! Birmingham has a chronic housing and homelessness crisis with over 23,000 households on its housing register.

There needs to be a mass campaign involving local unions and community organisations to fight back against cuts to frontline services, to pay workers fairly, and to stop the city being run by unelected commissioners. The unions representing council workers; Unison, Unite and GMB, held a public meeting on the 22 February (see below) which is a welcome step in that direction. They have announced a protest on Saturday 2 March and a council lobby on Tuesday 5 March, when the council will vote on the budget.

The call to fight should include other unions, which, while not representing council workers, will also be affected by the cuts, such as the teachers, firefighters and healthcare professionals. The council still had £668.4 million in reserves as of March last year, and extensive borrowing powers that could be used to buy time while fighting for the funding our city needs.

Labour government

Labour’s Keir Starmer is expecting to win the general election – the unions should place demands on him and Angela Rayner (shadow secretary for levelling up) to demand they pledge now that an incoming Labour government will reimburse all councils that have had to use borrowing powers to prevent cuts to jobs and services.

If they refuse, and if local Labour councillors and MPs collaborate with the Tories to bring ruin on Birmingham rather than stand with their workers and communities, then local trade union branches need to back workers’ candidates in any upcoming elections – candidates who will support their members.

This crisis has come from a council with a Labour supermajority. Therefore, it’s clearer than ever that working-class people need a party of our own.

This is why Socialist Party members will continue to stand in elections as part of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition. We want to work with all genuine working-class forces to build the fightback against austerity in Birmingham, including standing as an alternative at the ballot box to capitalist parties that put profits before workers!

Birmingham council: if they want a fight, they’ve got a fight!

Birmingham Socialist Party members attended a public meeting organised by council unions against Birmingham City Council’s planned budget cuts. These budget cuts would harm the most vulnerable in society who are already in a precarious situation.

Over 100 people attended from unions and organisations including Unison, Unite, GMB, Friends of the Library campaign, SEND parent’s campaign and DPAC (Disabled People Against the Cuts). Participants agree that the cuts are unnecessary when the government has more than enough to fund the local councils. 65 councils across the UK are also facing the risk of effective ‘bankruptcy’ due to funding withdrawn from central government.

Ted, a local RMT Rep and Socialist Party member, raised the need for an alternative: “Rather than voting any Labour candidates, we need to vote for councillors that stand with the workers.” This message is especially important when the options presented in the next general election are an unelected Tory prime minister and ‘blue Labour’ Keir Starmer. Birmingham council shows that, even if we get a Labour government, we need a workers’ party who will fight against austerity!

Written by workers for workers.

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