Monday, May 02, 2011

Shameless Birmingham Lib Dems accuse Labour of scaremongering

"We need to look at Manchester, where Labour are cutting and closing down services, in Birmingham, we're keeping them open."

John Hemming, Liberal Democrat MP for Birmingham Yardley
BBC Politics Show West Midlands, 1 May 2011.



"These cuts will have an undoubted impact on all frontline council services including care services to the vulnerable.... Rather than assist the country’s recovery by making savings to the public in a way that can protect local economies and the front line, the cuts are structured in such a way they will do the opposite."
Cllr Paul Tilsley, Liberal Democrat, Sheldon (part of Birmingham Yardley)

I have been passed a letter that is currently being hand-delivered to voters in Acocks Green in Birmingham from our Liberal Democrat council candidate and it has been signed off by another senior Liberal Democrat councillor - it may well be doing the rounds of Yardley, possibly even Paul Tilsley's Sheldon.

The letter makes the interesting claim that
"[Labour] deliberately exaggerate or invent statistics to frighten voters. So do not be fooled.... Labour are guilty of misleading you with false figures and blatant untruths about every attempt to reduce costs."
The sheer gall of any Liberal Democrat accusing any other party of misleading people astounds me. The local Liberal Democrat MP signed a pre-election promise to vote against any increase in university tuition fees, a promise that he unashamedly broke within months. The party campaigned against any hike in VAT or sudden package of cuts, but has acquiesced in them in government - selling out their voters for a few ministerial cars and seats on the government benches. Oddly, nowhere do they detail these false figures or untruths. I read on.
"All over the country, it is Labour councils that are closing facilities instead of tackling red tape and inefficiencies. Liberal Democrat councils are cutting costs and retaining services.

Here in Birmingham NO libraries, leisure centres, schools, swimming pools or public toilets are closing."
This councillor has swallowed the Eric Pickles-approved Kool Aid in industrial quantities. The whole point about the cuts to local authority funding this year is that they are not gradual, but sweeping cuts frontloaded into the first two years of the government and cuts that indisputably hurt deprived areas most. It is simply impossible for a council to make cuts of the level expected by tackling 'inefficiencies' - Birmingham has been working on 'efficiencies' for a number of years (if we ignore the appalling sums paid to consultants), but is still having to make thumping cuts (£300 million). Indeed, as Cllr Paul Tilsley agreed back in February
The local government settlement will take a major hit in this coming financial year and further, smaller, cuts in subsequent years. This front-loading means councils do not have the lead-in time necessary to re-engineer services on a lower-cost base and ease staff cuts without forced, expensive redundancies.
Curiously, this exposition of the facts fails to mention the cuts detailed in their own budget - the massive and damaging cuts (£118 million) to adult services, which will see 4000 adults with 'substantial needs' lose all services, as only those with critical need can hope to retain support from the local council. Acocks Green has a substantial elderly population, so can expect to be disproportionately affected by these cuts - choices made by the local Liberal Democrats. The minor fact that these choices were made without consultation and were subject to a judicial review, where the decision was declared unlawful is also missing from this letter. Here are some other inconvenient facts.
The four people, who cannot be named for legal reasons, include an elderly woman with severe learning difficulties who receives 24-hour care in a home paid for by the council, and a 25-year-old man with a rare genetic disorder and severe learning disabilities who receives overnight respite care, also council-provided. Both would have been left without funded care.... The Council's actions would impact thousands of vulnerable people, and were described by disabled rights groups as "heartless" and "irresponsible", as well as illegal...
Libraries aren't closing - but they are having their opening hours reduced and staffing will be limited. Leisure Services is taking a 17% budget cut this year, heavy cuts are being made to Childrens' Services - a department already failing is facing a restructuring designed to save money. Youth services across the city are essentially being scrapped and replaced with a website (I kid you not). 7000 jobs are set to go, with huge knock-on effects across the Birmingham economy. But still, these Liberal Democrats bury their heads in the sand, ignoring the cuts that they voted for and try to deceive voters that nothing is happening, as Andy Howell wrote about weeks ago. We've already seen crime rise in the West Midlands police area and they have forcibly retired dozens of highly experienced officers to meet demands from the coalition government for cuts that affect our force deeper than most.

Back to the letter to undecided voters. 
"The truth is, Birmingham are investing in extra classrooms, a new central library, two new swimming pools, building 700 homes for rent and freezing council tax this year.

Nationally we have taken 1.1 million low paid out of tax, investing £23 million extra this year in Birmingham schools, increased pensions and relinked them to inflation."
By the way, those low paid will see their tax savings eaten up by inflation and the rise in VAT. The extra classrooms were originally funded under Labour because of a forthcoming bulge in the school-age group. The central library and the pools are funded by borrowing (anyone know if the funding black hole has been filled yet?) and the council tax freeze is funded by central government.
"These are the facts you will never read on a Labour leaflet or in the Birmingham Mail (owned by the Mirror group of newspapers."
It is perhaps a mark of the desperation that is affecting the Liberal Democrats that they use an election leaflet to sling mud at the local press, unaware that the Birmingham Post and Mail tend to attack whoever is in power (Labour got the short end of the stick in the early part of the last decade and I'm sure they will get it again once they regain power over the next few years). To suggest that they are biased in favour of Labour is laughable.

Having opened with a warning about Labour misleading with false figures and blatant untruths, the letter concludes with a blatant untruth of its own.
'Fact A Labour Council will increase your Council Tax by Twice the rate of Inflation'
I'm pretty sure that this is not part of Labour's plan for Birmingham this year. I'd like to see the evidence to suggest that it is. Or is this just deliberate exaggeration to frighten voters? How does this compare with the views espoused by Cllr Tilsley back in February? Which Liberal Democrat is actually telling the truth or are they just desperately trying to claw back votes? Answers on a postcard to the usual address, please.

If you want a fact pulled out of thin air - how about that Liberal Democrat metropolitan councils will cost you 13% more than a no-overall control one like Birmingham and 11.9% more than a Labour council? Check out the figures from the House of Commons Library, referenced by Birmingham University's Chris Game, a fact conveniently ignored by this letter (which is relying on historical statistics irrelevant to the current situation and without reference to the funding regime at the time).

Acocks Green is a tough one for Labour to win this year - we've a huge majority to overturn, but I really hope that the voters aren't fooled by this last ditch pile of rubbish and see it for what it is. Believe me, this is one that the Liberal Democrats deserve to lose.

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