Again, the Labour Government has provided a financial settlement for local government and Birmingham which is exceptional. Free of the Tory government spending plans, since 1998 the Labour Government has provided each and every year a revenue support grant above inflation – unlike the many years of Conservative government which saw disastrous cuts in finance to local authorities, forcing local councils to introduce large rises in the council tax.
This year a Labour Government has provided Birmingham with an inflation-busting rise of 4.7 per cent, which means in real terms an additional £43.3 million for our schools and an extra £26.2 million for other services. The Labour group agreed with the proposal for a 1.9 per cent rise in council tax – which provides a further £5.11 million of new resources – but we wanted some of these additional monies diverted away from centrally held contingency funds and given to Constituency Committees. Local people are in the best place to decide how money should be spent locally. This Labour Group amendment was rejected by the Tory-Lib Dem administration.
In 2007-08 a Labour Government has again increased money to the most deprived areas of Birmingham through the Neighbourhood Renewal Fund (NRF) by giving Birmingham an extra £5 million. But we see a consistent theme emerging from the Tory-Lib Dem administration – taking from the most deprived areas of the city to give to the least deprived areas.
It is unacceptable that, this year, £0.92 million of NRF money was used to replace the council’s own funding of ward community chests, described as an efficiency saving. How much more of this will be happening in 2007-08? We will know the answer to this question over the months to come.
Birmingham and its Tory-Lib Dem leadership have been heavily criticised by the Audit Commission for their "weak" style of management and vision. This corresponds with a budget that hides cut-backs in service under the terminology of 'efficiency savings'. In the true meaning of this term, for example more efficient management and better use of resources, cuts do not occur. What is hidden in the detail of the budget are cuts to frontline services and rises in local charges such as those we have seen recently at our leisure centres.
Birmingham’s citizens have benefited significantly from a Labour Government. We have record numbers of police officers on our streets, alongside police community support officers. More nurses and doctors are employed in the NHS, with waiting times reduced massively in our hospitals. Britain really is working and it would be wrong to let the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats take the credit and, even worse, start wrecking it again.The Labour Group, when we led the council, gave free swimming to young people in Birmingham, launched warden schemes across this city and led the localised clean-up campaigns which we know have made a difference.Yes, we are supportive of an increase in spending on children’s and adults’ care services – in line with the changing demographics of this city. We are supportive of an increase in spending on schools – in line with the extra funding in the dedicated schools grant provided by a Labour Government.
This is a Budget which refuses to acknowledge the financial assistance provided by a Labour Government, without which the council tax increase would have been two, three or four times the 1.9 per cent accepted by the city council.
Birmingham is a first-rate city with second-rate leadership. It is not good enough. The ruling Tory-Lib Dem coalition talks about service delivery and boasts of "fiscal discipline" but they’ve failed the citizens of Birmingham in this budget. The budget shows "efficiency savings" of £42.7 million for 2007-08, £66.7 million for 2008-09 and £105.7 million for 2009-10. These ‘savings’ are really cuts in services we cannot afford.
On top of that, millions of pounds are being wasted on defending legal claims from tenants living in poor conditions, instead of spending those millions in repairing
council homes so that people can have a decent roof over their head. Time and again local residents have asked for better housing, education and street cleaning services, and yet this budget will do little to put these things right. Whilst many problems have been inherited because of twenty years of Labour misrule, the current leadership has to admit its failings. A record 79 per cent of councils have achieved three or four stars. Birmingham remains in the second division, with the 21 per cent of councils which achieved only one and two stars. Two-stars mean we are performing only at ‘minimum requirements’. The fact that this is claimed as some kind of achievement by the Tory and Lib Dems highlights their lack of vision and ambition.
But there is worse news. The prospects for improvement are not great. The inspectors have said 'the council has not been able to provide the leadership needed to take forward the corporate approach needed in such a diverse city'.
We are not harnessing the real potential of our great city – the youngest (sic) and one of the most diverse in Europe. Wealth may be flooding in to the flagship stores in the city centre, but how much of this reaches the deprived inner-city and outer-city neighbourhoods? This growing inequality threatens us all.
Birmingham needs a vision based on releasing the energy and talent of all our citizens. Respect wants to see a budget that commits us to real action on climate change; to delivering a living wage for all; quality homes for all; that tackles the scandal of poverty and inequality and one that values our children enough to give them hope for the future.