Archives for category: City Council

Birmingham City Council is now to begin the process of transferring 167 staff from Capita in-house together with the return of 147 council staff whose secondments have come to an end.

Is this part of a wider movement away from privatisation? The FT reported (9.2.18) that in 2017 according to the Association for Public Sector Excellence – around a third of Conservative local authorities, and 42 per cent of Labour councils, took services back in-house.

Expensive and less efficient?

In the first six years of the contract 2006, BusinessLive reports, Capita was paid £6 billion, according to website Diginomica and in 2011 it attempted to offshore roles to India in a decision that was later reversed at an extra cost of £1m a year to the council.(BL link no longer active, see Chamberlain Files)

Birmingham City Council’s call centre was taken inhouse at the end of 2014, saving £4 million a year and proving more popular with customers. Capita had been paid according to volume of calls rather than quality of service – a frustrated repeat caller was worth more than an instantly satisfied customer. It had also been heavily criticised over poor service, soaring costs and poor communication with council service departments.

Professor David Bailey has been a long-term critic of the contract. One of his major charges was that the contract lacked transparency about its cost implications:

“The gross profits figure of £15m is a significant understatement of the true ‘value extraction’ by Capita Group as a whole in 2015, which was over £20m on my back-of-a-spreadsheet calculation, because Service Birmingham bought tens of millions of pounds of ‘stuff’ from other Capita group companies, all of which no doubt were making significant profits”.

He paid tribute to the Birmingham Post: “The editors have allowed those of us critical of the SBJV significant space to examine the latter over several years through blogs and columns. Business editor Graeme Brown has doggedly dug out financial statements and highlighted the ongoing level of profits at SBJV while public affairs editor Neil Elkes has returned to the issue repeatedly. The paper’s journalists have, I feel, played a significant role in terms of local democratic scrutiny. Well done to them”.

Since outsourcing ended, costs have been slashed and the customer satisfaction rate has risen from 49% to 69%. The costs are set to further reduce by an estimated £1 million a year by 2020 as more information and services are made available online via the council’s website or smart phone apps.

 

 

 

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In June 2018, Birmingham City Council cabinet met and worked through an agenda of around 1080 pages covering important items requiring a decision to be made.

Amongst these were two which were very important for Birmingham’s environment. The first was making a decision to move ahead with a ‘clean air zone’, the second was proposing “improvements” to Dudley Road that could cost around £28 million.

BFOE responded to both consultations giving critical support to the first but expressing deep concern with the second.

The plans for Dudley Road are a throwback to 1960s mentality that supported the free movement of car and other vehicle users.

The plans are to widen the road to a full dual carriageway and some junctions to 5 lanes width. There were also some half-hearted ideas for cyclists sharing (busy) pavements with pedestrians as well as some segregated cycle lanes. There were no measures to encourage the use of buses or walking or to improve the generally poor environment along the road. Moreover, the increase in vehicles along Dudley Road would lead to more cars entering the central clean air zone.

David Gaussen, Adam McCusker and Martin Stride demonstrate against the widening scheme. Birmingham Friends of the Earth

BFOE discussed these proposals at our meetings and agreed to start a campaign against the plans. While taking our petition round we realised that local people and businesses did not seem to be very aware of the plans and were not supportive of them.

We also emailed Cllr Waseem Zaffar, the Cabinet member for Transport and the environment.

BFOE were then were invited to a meeting with council officers in March to discuss this. We had naively hoped that the council would use the Birmingham Connected policy as the foundation for the changes but this was rapidly found to be untrue. We found out that the officers were not aware of the five very progressive core aims of Birmingham Connected.

They did offer some limited improvements for cyclists and mentioned that the traffic lights would be set up to allow priority for approaching buses. We were told that the scheme’s financial viability had partly been shaped in order to attract funding from the DfT which is heavily biased in favour of cars and other vehicles.

Feeling disappointed by this meeting, we have written again to Cllr Zaffar, but have received a reply which in essence suggests that there will be a lot of growth in population in this part of Birmingham and that therefore road widening is the only solution.

We have previously been very impressed by Cllr Zaffar speaking at a number of transport meetings and heard him strongly arguing the case for better public transport and measures to persuade a switch from our car dominated environment to one where people were encouraged to walk, cycle or use public transport.

We still believe there is time for the council to think this through again and will continue campaigning against these environmentally damaging plans.

 

 

Written by David Gaussen as a member of Birmingham Friends of the Earth

Source: http://www.birminghamfoe.org.uk/what-we-do/issues-we-work-on/transport/dudley-road-improvements/

 

 

 

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A Moseley reader recently reflected that neither of the administrations have governed the city well. Is it simply too unwieldy?

The micro, self-reliant, self-helping project

Early in his career, Nick Cohen worked for the Birmingham Post and Mail. In the New Statesman he wrote: “I would often cover the glaring inadequacies of the city council. The micro, self-reliant and self-helping project seemed, and often was, preferable. Birmingham City Council is the largest municipality in the country. But its strength has been sapped by decades of centralisation and confidence undermined by the espousal of the pseudo-democracy of management consultants.

The award-winning Bureau of Investigative Journalism has carried out a major investigation, assisted by journalists all over the country.

It discovered that councils are selling thousands of public spaces – from libraries and community centres to playgrounds and pools – using some of the proceeds to fund further service cuts and redundancy payments.

Birmingham was the biggest spender – in terms of funding redundancies through selling assets

Though Birmingham City Council only provided partial information about sale prices and incomplete information about those receiving these public assets, we are told that between 2014 and 2018 Birmingham Council sold 334 public spaces.

To see what your council has sold, enter the name of your city into this interactive map.

The MP for Perry Barr, where the council has sold off land and buildings and spent the proceeds on making workers redundant, said, “We should never have been selling the land that we have inherited from our forefathers […] It just takes the future away from our children and grandchildren to come and that is really devastating.”

Dick Atkinson, whose work in Balsall Heath has been well-documented, advocated a return to Birmingham’s original ten villages. Many would agree that the experienced and successful Bournville Village Trust could oversee and guide the setting up of ten such village trusts with appropriate capital and income –– leaving a reduced council staff to co-ordinate city-wide services such as refuse collection and transport.

 

 

 

 

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Eve Jones invites all to join a peaceful, lawful march this Saturday to ask Birmingham City Council to declare a climate emergency and to introduce sweeping measures to combat global warming and mass extinction:

1. Debate a climate emergency motion at full council;
2. Pledge to make the city of Birmingham carbon neutral by 2025;
3. Call on Westminster to provide the powers and resources to make this target achievable;
4. Work with other local authorities on methods to limit Global Warming to less than 1.5°C;
5. Work with partners across the West Midlands to deliver this goal;
6. Report to Full Council within six months with the actions the Council will take to address this emergency.

Meet outside Waterstones by the bullring and march up New Street to Victoria Square, where the protest will take place. Meet at 12.30pm outside Waterstones or 1pm at Victoria Square.

Though the UK government admits we are failing to meet Paris Agreement targets which would keep us below a 2 degree rise, two weeks ago, when the House of Commons debated climate change for the first time in two years, 610 MPs stayed away. This seems at odds with the level of threat which we face, which is why we want our government to take urgent action now before we are forced to endure the consequences

The biggest price is already being paid by the very poorest of the world’s citizens and by nations least able to protect themselves (see Cyclone Idai in Malawi and Mozambique, for example) and even here in the UK it has been reported that our agricultural harvest was already 20% less productive in 2018 due to unusual weather-patterns. Eve ends:

“When we march on Saturday, we want to show Birmingham City Council and the people of Birmingham that we are united as a city and speak with one voice. We want groups from all of our communities to come down, make themselves visible, and make their voices heard”.

Read more here: www.facebook.com/extinctionrebellionbirmingham

 

 

 

 

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August, who lives in Moseley, sends a first-hand account of Birmingham students’ march against climate change. 

He writes:

More than five hundred Birmingham students bunked off school today to march against climate change.

All Birmingham-based photographs reproduced with permission: copyright August Goff

Youth Strike 4 Climate coordinated young people from various educational establishments across the city who met up in the city centre.

They marched from Victoria Square, down New Street, through Pigeon Park and back to Victoria Square to protest against the inaction of governments to tackle climate change.

The march was organised by Katie Riley, a Birmingham student. She spoke at the rally, saying:

“Educate the youth of tomorrow and the parliament of today because people who don’t know what climate change is about don’t know how dangerous it is. Some people think the topic is dull and boring because the curriculum makes it like that. So, we need to change how people view climate change in order to get the change we deserve.”

Councillors from local political parties attended, as did Jess Phillips, Labour MP for Yardley.

Similar events have taken place in 100 British towns and other cities including London, Edinburgh, Canterbury, Oxford and Cambridge, calling for urgent action to tackle climate change, cut emissions and switch to renewable energy.

A few hours later a message was received from Irish colleagues, sending a podcast with messages from two 11-year-olds, Eve O’Connor and Beth Malone, who are involved in the schools climate strikes movementThousands turned out in Dublin and demonstrations were held in many towns.

 

 

 

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A Bournville resident sent a link to an article summarising new research commissioned by the Local Government Association (LGA) Cambridge Economics.

Its conclusion: building 100,000 government-funded social rent homes a year over the past two decades would have cut ‘billions’ from the housing benefit bill.

In 1997, over a third of households lived in council housing, compared with just one in 10 today. The number of homes built for social rent each year has fallen from over 40,000 in 1997 to 6,000 in 2017. Successive governments imposed rules and restrictions hampering the ability of councils to replace homes sold through Right to Buy.

If 100,000 government-funded social rent homes had been built each year over the past two decades, tenants would have had a higher disposable income and ‘significant economic returns’ would have been generated for councils.

The LGA add that this loss of social housing has led to more and more individuals and families finding themselves ‘pushed’ into the private rented sector. As a result, the housing benefit bill paid to private landlords has more than doubled since the early 2000s.

Conclusions

  • Building 100,000 social rent homes each year for the past 20 years would have enabled all housing benefit claimants living in the private rented sector to move to social rent homes by 2016
    • The housing benefit claimants that would have moved from the private rented sector to social rent homes would have benefited of £1.8bn in extra disposable income over the period
    • Overall, the government would have had to borrow an additional £152bn in 2017 prices to build the homes over the 20-year period.
    • The rising proportion of housing benefit caseloads in the private rented sector has cost an extra £7bn in real terms over the last decade

On the report, Cllr Martin Tett, LGA Housing spokesman, added: “By scrapping the housing borrowing cap, the government showed it had heard our argument that councils must be part of the solution to our chronic housing shortage”. The LGA states that if councils are to truly fulfil their ‘historic role’ as major housebuilders then the government needs to allow councils to keep 100% of Right to Buy receipts and set discounts locally to replace every home sold, as well as setting out sustainable long-term funding and a commitment to social housing in the Spending Review.

The Local Government Association said its new research provides evidence for why the government should use the Spending Review to work with councils to ensure the success of the renaissance in council housebuilding needed to increase housing supply and reduce homelessness.

Further reading:

Jeremy Corbyn’s housing policy document

John Healey, shadow secretary of state for housing and planning

 

 

 

 

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Thousands of care workers across England and Wales are – in effect – being paid less than the national minimum wage because councils aren’t insisting that homecare companies pay for time spent travelling between visits. Using a Freedom of Information request, UNISON found that 54% of local authorities in England don’t state in their contracts that firms must pay employees for time spent travelling between visits.

President of Birmingham TUC Ian Scott writes:

Birmingham TUC and Birmingham against the Cuts are pleased to announce that they will hold a lobby of the 26th February Council meeting calling on the Council to cease using the Tory anti-union legislation against the legal industrial action by Unison Homecare workers and Unite Bin workers.

This follows a letter from 23 Birmingham Labour councillors including the ex-leader Sir Albert Bore and echoed in a television interview by Labour MP Khalid Mahmood. The Birmingham TUC and the national Trade Union Congress has long opposed the implementation of Tory anti-union legislation.

The treatment of the Unison Homecare workers has been particularly disgraceful with an attempt by the Council to force them to accept part-time contracts which involve major cuts in income. This directly contradicts Labour’s national policy of paying workers a living wage.

The attempt to impose a deal is in complete contradiction to Labour’s commitment to a new framework of workers’ rights. The refusal of the Labour cabinet to appropriately negotiate with the Unite Bin workers will lead to increased public hostility towards the Council.#

The lobby will be from 1pm Tuesday 26th February outside the Council House Victoria Square B1 1BB. Reps from the 23 critical Labour councillors, including councillor Majid Mahmood, and reps from Unison and Unite will be speaking at the event. For further details ring Stuart 0777 156 7496 or ser14@btinternet.com

(Ed: surely homecare workers should be paid the minimum wage – better still, a living wage – for every hour worked)

 

 

 

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Why aren’t we, the electorate, consulted about the whole Council Budget, not just the proposed cuts?

 

 A recent BATC article asked this question and continued:

“The Council’s Budget Consultation is not a consultation about the whole Budget, only about the Council’s planned cuts. On 19 December the Council held a public Budget Consultation meeting.  But it was a rigged consultation because we weren’t given the full Budget plans, only the proposals for the cuts that the Council leadership wants to make.

“The cuts the Council has decided on amount to £50 million this year. But the Council’s total Controllable Expenditure is £1.1billion. The planned savings amount to just 4.5% of the total Council Budget.

  • Where are the plans for the remaining 95.5%? There isn’t a word about them in the consultation document.
  • Why are they kept secret and not spelled out in the report?

“(Of course the Council will say they aren’t secret, they are published somewhere – but this is meaningless if they don’t say where to find them.)”

Smoke and mirrors? 

In 2011, the late Alan Clawley, a tenacious scrutineer, spent several days poring over the 166-page Budget Book and saw that public services were indeed being cut – as publicised – but that civic spending was actually set to increase. 

He was so surprised by this finding that he emailed the council to check the figures, thinking that he must have made a mistake. He referred to these findings in the Birmingham Press after setting them out in great detail at a WM New Economics Group meeting, adding his proposals for an alternative budget. He continued: 

“When I looked at the overall cost of running the Council I saw that it is to INCREASE by £14 million, i.e. from £3,513 million in 2010/11 to £3,527 million in 2011/12.  

“To arrive at this bottom line the council has made CUTS of £149 million but INCREASES of £164 million, which includes £14 million extra for the Leader’s budget.  

“I can’t see where the much-publicised cut of £212 million comes from.  

“The CAPITAL BUDGET has been reduced by £16 million but this consists of a £95 million CUT and a £79 million INCREASE on projects such as the Library of Birmingham, Harborne Pool, Sparkhill Pool, Alexander Stadium, Safety works to parks Highways Maintenance, Big City Plan, High Speed 2, New Street Gateway, Eastside, and Icknield Port Loop”.

The council’s tables were published in an article with the relevant facts highlighted and  Alan Clawley ended by asking:

“How can we (non-experts) know if Birmingham City Council is telling us the truth when it says that the government is forcing it to cut the cost of services by over £200 million next year?  

“How many of us will study the 166-page Budget Book or by spend time scrutinising even the simplified version of the accounts that come with the Council Tax bill”.

 

Fast forward to 2019

The BATC article continues: ”The Council leadership says ‘The purpose of this consultation is… to invite the public and partners to consider these savings proposals, provide feedback and, if they wish, make alternative suggestions’ .” (Report to Cabinet 13 November).  

“But how can we make alternative suggestions if we aren’t given the full picture? 

“The Council Budget Equality Impact Assessment document says explicitly that the cuts they propose will hit the poorest and most vulnerable hardest. Here’s just one shocking statistic: more than 2 in 5 children in Birmingham live in poverty. 

“There must be savings that can be made out of the 92% of the hidden budget that will cause less damage to these children and their families than the cuts the Council leadership plans”.

The writer asks if the councillors really believe that if the Council leadership consulted on the whole 100% of the Budget, not just its selected four and a half percent, the citizens of Birmingham would say they want to cut:

  • Travel Assist for pupils in need,
  • school crossing patrols,
  • half the libraries’ books budget,
  • the Legal Entitlement & Advice Service accessed by some of the most vulnerable people of Birmingham,
  • privatise or close Council day nurseries
  • the hours of low paid Home Care workers
  • and other damaging cuts in the proposed Budget.

“That is one reason why it is a token consultation. But there is another. The introduction to the Budget Consultation 2019+ November 2018 by Councillors Ian Ward and Brigid Jones says “We know that the decisions laid out in this document will affect many of your lives, which is why it is so important for us to hear from you, and that you take the time to talk to us.”  The Report to Cabinet (13 November) says “Comments from the public will be invited at face-to-face meetings with the public….” Note it says “meetings” plural. And yet they arranged just one solitary consultation meeting. A leaflet given out at the meeting from BATC, Save Our Nurseries and Birmingham Keep Our NHS Public says:

  1. We call for open local meetings to be set up across the city by the Council, to which ordinary citizens, community and campaigning groups are invited to participate.
  2. They would have the aim of drawing up a charter of service needs, campaigning for Birmingham’s money to be returned and developing a vision for a new people’s city, a new Birmingham.

These meetings could be the catalyst for a mass campaign, led by the Council, against the Government austerity policies which are the cause of the relentless cuts in the Council’s budgets. 

2011 https://politicalcleanup.wordpress.com/2011/07/23/newspaper-headlines-shouted-council-cuts-but-what-actually-happened

2019 https://birminghamagainstthecuts.wordpress.com/2019/01/01/why-arent-we-consulted-about-the-whole-council-budget-not-just-the-proposed-cuts/#more-10301

 

 

 

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West Midlands New Economics Group

Thursday 24th January, 5-7 pm

Open meeting: FOE Warehouse, 54 Allison St, B5 5TH

 

The subject will be opened by Peter Beck followed by discussion of the present situation in Birmingham and perhaps of what form of Local Government would work in a city the size of Birmingham.

A round table discussion

Coincidentally Birmingham City Council is currently consulting with its residents about the level of local government they would like to see in their ward e.g. a Parish Council.

Because of the Ward Forum meeting at 7pm Peter can only stay for an hour.

Hazel Clawley will update us on what she intends in the follow up to the discussion she led on Zero Waste in October.

ALL WELCOME

 

Contributions of £2 to cover the cost of room hire

 

 

 

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