Wednesday, October 28, 2009

£14 million reasons to Be Birmingham

Sparkbrook Liberal Democrat city councillor Jerry Evans, who described the transfer of WNF money to social services as a “smash and grab raid” on people out of work... Coun Evans added: “This is the sort of ludicrous proposal we might expect from Be Birmingham.”
That 'smash and grab' raid on the Working Neighbourhoods pot of gold to backfill a £14 million pound hole in the Social Services budget was orchestrated by the well-known local firm of dodgy geezers, Birmingham City Council, who comprise the largest power bloc on the board of Be Birmingham. So, if Jerry (a councillor in Springfield, last time I checked) wants to discuss this 'ludicrous' proposal, then he might wish to raise that with the Chair of Be Birmingham, Lib Dem councillor and deputy leader of Birmingham City Council, Paul Tilsley, who works closely with the BCC chief executive, Stephen Hughes, also a board member of Be Birmingham. If that fails, he can always talk to Lib Dem Cllrs Ayoub Khan or Martin Mullaney, who share Sharon Lea, a Be Birmingham board member, as their lead officer. Cllr Khan is also the alternate board member if Paul is otherwise engaged. Failing that, a quick word with Lib Dem Cllr Sue Anderson, who has as her departmental lead officer another Be Birmingham board member, Peter Hay. Birmingham City council also provides Elaine Elkington and Tony Howell from their directorates to sit on the board, making up the six BCC members. The Labour group leader Sir Albert Bore also sits on the board – the Post claims as an observer, but I thought that he had voting rights.

Essentially, Be Birmingham is a creature of the City Council, with very little independent thought or scrutiny of its activities.

It has also gone rather further than a 'proposal' - a proposal that I suspect originated within BCC rather than within Be Birmingham as a handy way to backfill just one of the many budgetary gaps.

The money was never intended to be spent entirely on job creation programmes, as the original briefing note states

The programme is targeted not only at getting people into employment but addressing some of the problems that people experience in the most deprived areas
I can see that there might be value for neighbourhoods in tackling graffiti, but I struggle to understand just how spending money on social services fits into that context. Be Birmingham has been tasked to spend, spend, spend until the £115 million allocation has been exhausted prior to 2011, but has only managed to put £2.5 million into actually tackling unemployment out of the £57.9 million earmarked, as this budget breakdown shows

  • £57.9 million - To tackle worklessness including the constituency and neighbourhood employment and skills plans
  • £3 million - City Housing Partnership - Low cost loans, benefit check & advocacy service to vulnerable households
  • £3 million - Birmingham Health & Wellbeing Partnership - Reducing obesity rates and improving the wellbeing of older people
  • £3 million - Safer Birmingham Partnership - Junior youth inclusion projects
  • £3 million - Children and Young People Partnership - Supporting families and people at risk of worklessness
  • £3 million - Cultural Partnership - Volunteering & connecting city centre resources to neighbourhoods
  • £3 million - Birmingham Environmental Partnership - Anti graffiti action & street champions programmes
  • £3 million - Neighbourhood management in disadvantaged areas of the city
  • £6 million - Social capital/enterprise investment - Supporting third sector organisations deliver more effectively in disadvantaged neighbourhoods
  • £12.6 million - Local infrastructure support - Supporting constituencies to facilitate local working
  • £6.6 million - Be Birmingham partnership support - Supporting partnership working and developing the LAA
No mention there of spending £14 million shoring up Social Services and if it has been taken from the worklessness tranche of funding, then it is an even deeper bite of the funding available that should have gone to help people back into work, not sort out financial problems for an incompetent council.

No wonder that Khalid Mahmood, the Labour MP for Perry Barr, called it 'an absolute disgrace.' One of the problems with the Neighbourhood Renewal Fund was that it was used as a local slush fund for politicians pet causes and projects. Putting it into a broader framework was supposed to resolve that, but all it appears to have done in this case is put the cash straight into the hands of the council.

But Cllr Evans needs to remember - as do many Liberal Democrats - that are responsible for the City Council and that means taking the rap when it all goes pear-shaped.

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