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Cold cuts

December 09 2011
No surprise, but ‘efficiency savings’ are going to affect services

 

Birmingham City Council’s extensive public consultations disclose plans to reduce funding for ‘at risk’ groups. Services for vulnerable people seem set to face the brunt of Birmingham City Council’s proposed 2012/13 budget cuts, announced at a community consultation meeting in King’s Heath last month.

The meeting - one of a series being carried out across the city ¬ took place in a community centre on 7 November. Intended as an opportunity for residents and community leaders to have their say on the shape of Birmingham’s budget, the meeting descended into disarray as council representatives struggled to calm tempered locals who voiced concern over the planned savings.

Tensions were high as residents vented their frustration towards the lack of political representation present and the inconsistencies in the consultation documents, which called for the protection of the city’s vulnerable alongside plans to severely cut funding for vital services.

The proposed savings, part of the government’s priority to reduce the national deficit over a period of four years, sees Birmingham City Council - the largest in Europe - having to save a further £65 million, totalling £350 million by 2014/15.

As well as reductions to children and young people’s services, the Supporting People Programme, which is funded by central government but administered by Birmingham City Council, seems set to lose almost a third of its funding, way above the 11 per cent recommendation. Supporting People provides critical prevention services to vulnerable groups across the West Midlands as well as sustaining vital housing-related support, stopping dependency on more expensive statutory services later on.

Community leaders expressed concern that the reductions would unfairly penalise vulnerable groups and significantly increase their risk of homelessness. Mark Barrow, Strategic Director of Development at Birmingham City Council insisted that the council still pledged to prioritise those most in danger, but added: “Supporting People used to be ring-fenced, meaning it was secure. The government has since reduced this protection, so it is no longer a statutory service which makes it more vulnerable to reductions.”

While council representatives acknowledged that making savings involved some tough decisions, they emphasised the necessity of local action to reduce the national deficit, adding that they are legally obliged to return a balanced budget at the end of the year. Their explanation was met with hostility however as residents questioned the political agenda of the Conservative-Liberal council, with calls that ‘savings’ are an unnecessary ideological attack upon the welfare state.

Taking an overwhelming anti-cuts position, audience members proposed that tax justice -ensuring a fair tax system and closing in on corporate tax evaders - would be a much less painful way of tackling the deficit and would protect the most vulnerable. Figures from the Tax Justice Network show that £25 billion is lost annually in tax avoidance and a further £70 million in tax evasion by large companies and wealthy individuals. Residents also called for the banking sector to take responsibility for the financial crisis through an end to fat cat bonuses and the ‘me me me’ culture.

Speaking after the event, a spokesperson from Birmingham Against the Cuts commented: “The entirely partial presenting officer took a transparently partisan stance on deficit reduction, and responded to the call for executives’ pay to be cut by observing that it is essential to pay the highest rates possible.”

The Kings’s Heath meeting passed two resolutions, firstly rejecting all the cuts that Birmingham City Council is proposing for the 2012/13 budget and secondly stating them to be politically motivated.

• The community budget consultations began on 12 October 2011 and will continue until 8 January 2012. The process includes community meetings and an online survey. Consultation documents are available for view and comment at: bit.ly/hhBqvJ

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