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Finding different ways

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Earlier this year, in the run-up to the vote on an elected mayor in Birmingham, there was discussion about the city council expanding its activities, and taking more powers from central government. But reality has powerful jaws and very sharp teeth, and now the council is looking at decommissioning entire services to make £600 million of savings by 2017, reported BBC News today (23 October 2012).

Cuts of £62 [million] to the Labour-run authority’s 2012-13 budget were voted for in February with warnings that 1,100 jobs could go.

Council leader Sir Albert Bore said some services would have to be “decommissioned” completely.

Sir Albert warned the authority could face an additional £60 [million] to £70 [million] of cuts on top of the £120 [million] for 2013 – 2014, depending on reductions in direct government grants.

He blamed successive cuts in government grants for the council’s “horrendous” financial situation, which he said had not taken into account population changes, inflation and other costs.

The leader said the government had banned authorities from raising council tax by more than 1.6% without holding a referendum among voters about whether they would be prepared to pay more. He refused to rule that out as a possibility.

Sir Albert said: “This is the end of local government as we have known it.

“But this is not the end of local government completely.

“It needs to be inventive, it needs to find new ways to work with partners like public agencies, schools and the business community to find different ways to do this.”
The council said it would be holding several public meetings from next month over which services should go.

The problem with ‘consultation’ (compared with say, a referendum), is that vested interests could spin the ‘findings’ in whatever way suited their agenda. Furthermore, most citizens have no idea what individual council services cost per capita. In fact, from councillor Bore’s live webchat this evening, it appears that the authority itself doesn’t have that information, and is yet to fully identify which activities are statutory. (Rudimentary high-level comparisons of service costs have been made by local authorities for years, but nowhere near detailed enough for the purpose of managing expenditure.)

A lot of the webchat questions seem to come from staff of the council and its associated bodies, such as the Connexions careers service. Apparently, schools are choosing not to contract with Connexions to provide careers advice, but again, it’s not clear how efficient or cost-effective Connexions is, or why Birmingham council should be involved with dictating who should be providing non-statutory careers advice.

A few weeks ago, Birmingham hosted the Conservative party conference — which cost the city hundreds of thousands of pounds. The Chamberlain Files reported that councillor Bore doubted whether subsidising political conferences was cost-effective. While evidence of general economic benefit from them is very thin, it’s likely that vested interests, such as the council’s Marketing Birmingham affiliate, are pushing very hard for continued subsidy of such events.

Since relocating there in 1990, Birmingham Royal Ballet has received millions in council cash, yet it does not even perform one full free show a year in the city. Its public performance, at Artsfest, has amounted to about 15 minutes in the last two years. So Birmingham council might want to look at ensuring at least one free-to-the-public full production a year is included in future funding contracts.

Written by beleben

October 23, 2012 at 8:39 pm

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