Tuesday was the budget debate at Birmingham City Council.
We all agree that Birmingham would like more money from the Government. Politicians from all parties have been down together to London to meet with the Government and argue that point on at least two occasions. But Tuesday’s debate was about how the different parties would spend the money we HAVE got. Both the Labour and Conservative budgets therefore were worked out under the same financial constraints.
In the areas such as children’s services, the Conservative budget was in line with the Labour one. So if Labour have any criticism of our spending there, it’s a criticism of themselves as well.
Where we differed was in the areas of clean, green and safe – where the Conservatives would have made some backroom cuts in order to protect the front line services which Labour is now axing or charging for. We would also have given more money to the Disrticts. It’s no good bleating (as Labour do) that they support Localisation – while at the same time they are starving the local Districts of funding.
Things the Conservative budget would have introduced (had it been passed) included:
Garden waste collection to be free again and those who had already paid would have had their money refunded
£100,000 Community Chest for each ward
An extra Youth Community Chest to fund services for young people
Local libraries to remain open
The money to ensure no school crossing wardens need be axed
Every household to be eligible for a free bulky waste collection each year (Labour are charging for this service now)
Every district to have a special clean up crew dedicated to ensuring the streets are cleared of rubbish and fly tipped waste (in other words, rolling out to the city the Hit Squad idea which has worked so successfully in Edgabston Ward).
The funding for each ward to get a new micro park/public square (like Woodview’s very popular pocket park) over the next four years. Local residents were saying at the Woodview meeting only last week how the pocket park is so popular, people come from other areas to use it. But Labour rubbished this idea (particularly one Moseley Councillor) even though our local people think it’s a great idea.
An emergency pot hole repair fund
But I say “would have” because while the Lib Dems supported our budget proposals, the Labour Councillors all voted against. So our budget was not adopted and we are stuck with Labour’s budget which is full of cuts to popular front line services.
Our proposals would have saved these vital front line services for residents and crucially, our ideas were all funded. It was a balanced budget. So if Labour tell you that they have to close a library, or axe a lollipop lady, (for example) because they haven’t enough money for these services - you should question that. There IS the money available, we proved it with our budget, but Birmingham’s Labour Group prefer to spend it on something else. And Labour’s ruling Cabinet prefer to keep the money in the centre rather that allowing local Districts (who run these local services) to have control of it.
The money to fund our improvements would have come from such things as reducing staff sickness absences which are still too high in BCC, outsourcing the HR Dept, cutting Cabinet support staff, cutting back on the policy department, cutting back on outside subscriptions, etc. etc.
In other words, Conservatives put front line services as their main priority and Labour did not. Yes, times are hard. We’d all like more money. But as I have said before, and will doubtless say again, when times are tough, that’s when it’s even more important to spend the money that you do have wisely. And Labour in Birmingham in my opinion are not.
The budget debate can be viewed on line.