Archives for category: Finance

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

 

 

 

0

 

Advertisements

Though the NHS’s funding formula is designed to provide more money to the neediest areas, an FT article reported last week that – according to data analysed by the Nuffield Trust for the Financial Times – some poorer communities being “left behind” when accessing GP services.

Sarah Neville, Global Pharmaceuticals Editor, summarising the data, reports that rich and poor people in England receive different standards of care from the UK’s universal free health service.

Despite the higher burden of ill health in lower socio-economic groups, there are markedly fewer GPs per head in poorer areas of England than in richer areas. More details are given here.

Market Place, Tipton

National Health Service Sandwell residents feel health concerns go unheeded. The FT reports that data from the Sandwell and West Birmingham clinical commissioning group (CCG), which holds the budget for treating the local population, shows that 45.6% reported seeing their preferred GP always or most of the time, compared with a national average of 54.9%. The percentage not able to get a GP appointment stood at 17.1, compared with 11.4% nationally.

Pam Jones, who used to chair Healthwatch, described a kind of vicious circle for local surgeries: “Because they haven’t got enough GPs, they have to employ locums. They employ locums and then it takes more money out of their practice.”

Andy Williams, who heads the Sandwell and West Birmingham clinical commissioning group as its accountable officer, acknowledged that, despite measures to make more GP appointments available, he still receives feedback complaining that it is difficult to get an appointment, “ . . . so we know we’ve got a lot more to do. But we’re taking a much, much more diverse and imaginative approach now”.

He said recruitment has become much harder in the past two years, as a new generation of medical school graduates no longer want to make a mortgage-sized commitment to buy an equity share in a practice to which they are then tied to financially for their working life.

Local GP Ray Sullivan who chairs the local medical committee of the British Medical Association, said he was struggling with a relentless increase in workload without an equivalent increase in funding. He still receives “£150 per patient to do everything” and adds: “That’s the same as I got ten years ago. And the burden of work has gone up incrementally every year since.”

The findings increase pressure on the NHS to outline measures to reduce health inequalities when it publishes its long-awaited spending plan next month.

 

 

 

o

Peter Beck wrote to the Birmingham Post on Thursday December 6th 2018:

While agreeing that “the Paradise Project is a fiasco” (no name and address Post letter 29 Nov 2018) I draw a somewhat different conclusion as to who is to blame. I also think that Jonathon Walker’s article (Post 29th Nov) should perhaps have been titled “Council anger with Amey”.  However Carl Jackson’s article (Post 22 Nov 2018) is very revealing and there is so much for us to learn from this disaster of a development.


https//:www.flickr.com/photos/ell-r-brown

It is of course questionable as to whether Birmingham City Council (BCC) should be seeking partnerships with, or to employ the likes of Capita, Carillion, and Amey.  They have proved a very costly exercise. 

And why should we trust Argent, the present managers of this development?  Such companies and unelected organisations such as the LEP and PCLP (mysterious bodies to most of us) are out of BCC control, and unaccountable to the residents of Birmingham.

It does beg the question as to why we continue to demolish perfectly good existing buildings and spaces (offices, hotels, parking spaces, public spaces, shops, restaurants and cafes etc) only to replace them with the same.

After all, this requires a huge amount of embedded energy and contributes to climate change.  A good example is the Central Library. The original plan of architect John Madin for its setting was ignored, it was done on the cheap, and then successive administrations (Tory, Lib Dem and Labour) neglected and failed to maintain it.  Even so, the cost of refurbishing was estimated at £38m while the new one has so far cost more than £100m.

The new one has resulted in a drastic reduction in staff hours with an opening time of 11.00 a.m. – hardly a “world class” facility/service as originally claimed!  Further, it has led to the closure of the unique Brasshouse Languages Centre building and the transfer of its language classes (with the recent loss of English as a Foreign Language classes).  The fee payments are presumably helping to fund the Library but the classrooms do not adequately meet the students’ needs.

Another farcical aspect of the Paradise Project is its treatment of public spaces.  Centenary Square is being dug up yet again but the new version will be quite inferior to its original “gardens” ancestor.

My conclusion is that BCC should avoid private/public joint ventures and it should restrain those senior officers who currently work hand in glove with developers. We should once again give the councils the in-house resources they need to carry out the restoration, reuse, recycling, repair, refurbishment and maintenance of existing buildings. Lots of permanent jobs would then be created. 

 

 

 

o

Community Energy Birmingham  co-operatives offer shares in order to fund the installation of solar photovoltaic arrays on community buildings in Moseley and Small Heath, Birmingham – see a 2015 post. 

Community Energy Birmingham (CEB) has some exciting news!

“We’re looking to grow our existing portfolio of renewable energy generation on community energy buildings in Birmingham, and have just launched a new share offer in November 2018. Our plan is to put a large solar roof (163 panels) on the housing association building in the centre of Castle Vale. This will be our largest solar roof to date, with a peak capacity of 50 kW. The total investment opportunity is around £44,000. We have already raised several thousand pounds”.

CEB aims to do this before the Feed in Tariff scheme closes in early 2019. CEB has already installed 6 solar PV on roofs belonging to community buildings where the organisations receive the benefit of clean and reduced cost electricity.

One example of its work is the installation of another 10 kilowatts of solar panels on the main roof of the Moseley Exchange building, joining the 8.5 kw on the sloping roof to the rear. The new panels cannot be seen, since they lie flat behind the parapet of this historic old Post Office building in the centre of Moseley. Since the building is in use almost every day, the solar energy will be consumed within the building, which is used by many Moseley community groups.

CEB ethical investors have been paid 4% this year on their shares 

Shares are from £250 to £10,000. CEB prefers investment from people living in or near Birmingham.  The new Share offer closes on 31 Dec 2018, but they would love to hear right away if you want to know more.

Email enquiry@communityenergybirmingham.coop

Full details are available in their Share Offer document and for those seeking shares, an Application Form may be filled out and returned.

 

 

 

 

o

Birmingham Against the Cuts

Open Planning Meeting on Wednesday 10 October at 7pm

at the Wellington, 37 Bennetts Hill, Birmingham B2 5SN

 

     Agenda 

  1. Attendance and apologies
  1. Notes of meeting of 19 September
  1. The campaign by BCC Home Care Workers in Unison against changes in contracts
  1. The campaign against the closure of 14 Council Day Nurseries
  1. The campaign against school funding cuts
  1. Keep Our NHS Public (KONP) update
  1. Library campaign update
  1. The local economy – including BCC’s ‘Municipal Socialism’ and ‘Local Wealth Building’ and the WMCA’s ‘Inclusive Growth’
  1. Local democracy – BCC’s plans for wards
  1. AOB
  1. Date and venue of next meeting

*

PLEASE NOTE THAT AIDED DISABLED ACCESS TO OUR MEETINGS IN THE WELLINGTON CAN BE ARRANGED WITH ADVANCE NOTICE. PLEASE EMAIL RICHARD.HATCHER@BCU.AC.UK

 

See the Birmingham Against the Cuts website for regular news and analysis ahttps://birminghamagainstthecuts.wordpress.com/

 

 

 

o

 

FT View recalls that Theresa May made solving Britain’s housing crisis a personal mission when she became prime minister in 2016.

A copy of her ‘burning injustices’ speech hangs in the No 10 waiting room according to Matt Chorley (Times). He reports, however, that references to it may be ‘ditched’ to avoid damaging the party’s poll ratings and notes that Tory MPs are now discouraged from using it in their campaign leaflets.

Philip Collins reminded us in the Times: “Conservatives often give bold speeches which herald no action. After the expenses scandal David Cameron diagnosed all that was wrong with politics and proclaimed a radical plan to put it right, not a word of which ever materialised. In her first address as prime minister, Theresa May set out the array of social issues which would define her premiership. Mired in Brexit, we are still waiting.”

The FT asserts that current proposals fall far short of an answer: there are now more than 1m people on the waiting list for council housing and, according to the charity Shelter, 300,000 people without homes. The un-named FT journalist adds that after years of austerity many local councils cannot afford to replace the social housing sold to tenants under the right-to-buy rules brought in by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s and there is no new state money for housebuilding.

The new borrowing headroom they may be afforded looks limited and does not represent a rethinking of the ‘stifling’ constraints imposed on councils by Whitehall and the lack of subsidy for construction means sub-market-priced housing will continue to be subsidised through rents in the inefficient form of housing benefits.

So the state will continue to pay off the mortgages of private landlords rather than investing in the construction of an asset owned by either the state or a non-profit landlord

And the new rent settlement of inflation plus 1% to 2021 is grim at a time of stagnating incomes for tenants who have been tied to above-inflation rent rises for many years. Increasingly they cannot afford it.

Fast forward to Birmingham

 

A reader attended a Local Government Association breakfast meeting at a ‘costly’ hotel in the city with 9 others,  but with enough ‘luxury salmon etc’ to feed 30. As she handed out what was left over to the homeless lining the city centre, she heard ‘heart-breaking’ stories from some including one man who had winter frost-bite in one foot which was amputated, was released too soon and got frost bite in two other toes, so now is in a wheelchair. Her comment:

“What makes me fume is that there are 9,600 homeless in the city & 10k empty houses, so using special laws the council could requisition them & do them up with grants but instead their inefficient silo housing department evicts people instead of helping them”.

A search revealed that according to Government statistics (updated in May 2018) giving these figures for Birmingham:

  • the total number of empty homes in the city in 2017 was over 400,000
  • over 60,000 are local authority owned,
  • over 40,000 are owned by private registered providers (housing associations and social landlords)
  • and over 300,000 are privately owned.

According to a council report, more than 5,000 private homes in Birmingham have been empty for more than six months: of those 1,900 have been empty for three years. In many cases they have overgrown gardens, with litter, graffiti and broken windows blighting their neighbourhoods. But in June the Mail reported that the city council has set up a £4.6 million fund to buy empty homes and make them fit for use.

FT View summarises that at present, the emphasis remains doggedly on the right to buy what housing already exists

Worse still, today the FT reports that an analysis by Hamptons International, the estate agency, records that since the policy was introduced in 2013, more than 32,000 households have used the government’s Help to Buy scheme (a loan of up to 20% of the value of a newly built home in England, or 40% in London, interest-free for five years) to trade up for bigger properties rather than buying a first home. 

FT View’s verdict: “Britain needs a more proactive state to help solve its housing crisis. It looks unlikely that Mrs May’s government will deliver it”.

 

 

 

o

 

After being awarded a 15-year contract in 2011, as part of a wider move to bring more competition into the prison service, G4S has been stripped of control over ‘failed’ HMP Birmingham jail (details here). This is the latest crisis of the decades-long move towards privatisation of public services.

Following the first ‘takeover’ for a privatised prison contract, David Gauke, justice secretary, is appointing a new governor and management team on the site and has compelled G4S to take on 30 extra staff to instigate various improvements.

300 of HMP Birmingham’s 1,330 inmates will also be moved to other jails

Ministers said that G4S, which had failed to run the prison safely, would continue to run the facility under the direct control of the Ministry of Justice for at least the next six months.

This is government’s first ‘step-in process’.

Though G4S also runs HMP Altcourse, HMP Parc, HMP Ryehill and HMP Oakwood, all of which are “performing well” according to the government, shares in G4S dropped 2.5% after the government assumed control of the prison. Other problems include:

  • the government’s 2003 installation of a new governor at HMP Ashfield, run by Premier Prison Services;
  • the criminal activity of some Serco staff at the Yarl’s Wood immigration detention centre;
  • problems with Capita’s NHS back-office functions for primary care providers;
  • in 2016 ministers took over the running of Medway, a youth custody centre, where a G4S contract was coming to an end;
  • construction and public services company Carillion collapsed in January
  • and the Stagecoach and Virgin Trains East Coast mainline service was recently nationalised.

The Financial Times reported that violence, drugs, suicide and self-harm, squalor and poor access to education were once again “prominent themes” in jails during the year to the end of March. in July, Peter Clarke, the chief inspector of prisons for England and Wales, in a highly critical annual report, said that conditions in some UK prisons are “disgraceful” and “should not be accepted in 21st-century Britain”.

Education, health, prisons, transport: in how many other sectors is the private sector failing?

 

 

o

 

In December last year it was reported that several of the brown recycling bins supplied to Solihull Council by Yorkshire manufacturer MGB Plastics were faulty. Many were prone to splitting, while several could not be lifted on to recycling lorries.

But this saga began as long ago as 2015 – reported by the Independent Councillor for Blythe Ward at the time, Linda Brown, whose bin had split.

In her Spotlight Council slot in the monthly Dickens Heath Directory (August 2015) she wrote that faulty brown wheelie bins were splitting at the side (right) due to a manufacturing fault of which the supplier was aware.  She also gave details of council contacts to report broken bins for replacement.

On 9th May Priscilla Taylor contacted the council to ask for a replacement brown bin.

  • She was told to expect to wait up to 20 working days but it still was not delivered.
  • She started calling regularly, asking when her bin would be replaced but was ‘fobbed off with a variety of excuses’.
  • On June 11 she was told that she would be on the “Priority” list.
  • She was then informed that her bin was replaced on June 13.
  • But her old bin still sits outside on the pavement.

Around 17,000 requests have been lodged for replacement recycling wheelie bins following splits and mounting rubbish. Residents have spoken out about severe backlogs of recyclable waste and bin men refusing to take collections.

Online reference ‘buried’ overnight

6th July

An online Google search using ‘mgb split bins’ (page 1) reveals no acknowledgement of this problem by the firm, which is seeking business with many local authorities, but newspaper reports of Solihull’s problem.

7th July

An online Google search using ‘mgb split bins’ (page 1) reveals no newspaper reports of Solihull’s problem. It is now necessary to know of its existence and search on ‘mgb split bins solihull’.’

Will local taxpayers be picking up the cost for distribution and disposal of faulty recycling bins or will Solihull Council require the suppliers of this unfit equipment to do so?

 

 

 

o

The Heritage Lottery Fund Schedule of Decisions has recorded a grant given to a two year project which will work with local communities to establish heritage fruit and nut tree sites in Stirchley, Birmingham.  The project is a partnership between Food Forest brum and Lets Grow Together.

It will engage the local community with the history of traditional fruit and nut trees and encourage involvement in the creation and management of urban orchards, nut groves and forest gardens.

Felipe Molina, one of five directors of Spring to Life which applied for this funding, has been involved in the development of Food Forest Brum and Mother Gardens projects.

He spoke about this project at Stirchley Neighbourhood Forum Meeting on 11th June, at Stirchley Community Church, Hazelwell Street (above).

 

 

 

o