Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Budget Consultation 2013 Public Meetings

Tonight sees the last of the public meetings as part of the consultation process for the 2013/14 budget for Birmingham City Council. It will be held in Committee Room 3 & 4 in the Council House and the public are welcome. I've been to two of the three so far and they've been lively affairs, but generally well-ordered. We've heard the detail from Albert and the cabinet team, who have answered questions from the floor and spent far more time than was originally allocated to ensure that all those who want to speak get the chance.

Incidentally, if you miss the meeting, there will be a webchat with Sir Albert on Wednesday 19 December from 6:30pm to 7:30pm on twitter using the hashtag #askalbert. Even after that, you can send your comments to budget_views@birmingham.gov.uk or write to Budget Views, Room 127, Council House, Victoria Square, Birmingham B1 1BB.

Youth services and support for the disabled are key issues that keep being brought up. For those that doubt the importance of consultation, Cllr Ian Ward revealed that the consultation into the Council Tax Benefit scheme that we have to introduce next year has raised some important issues and he is minded to adjust our proposal to ensure that the disabled are protected, even if they are moved off Disability Living Allowance onto Employment Support Allowance and he is also looking to protect carers as well. Both of those are directly attributable to responses received from the consultation process.

One thing that comes up time and time again is a demand that we set an illegal budget, as Liverpool did in the 80s - where we plan to spend more than we actually receive.

Councillors can no longer be personally surcharged or jailed for setting an illegal budget. Actually, if that was all it took to sort this, there are several in the Labour Group who would accept it with equanimity, but that isn't the reality. While the council can move small amounts around between years to deal with events, it isn't legal for it to set a deficit budget that spends more than it brings in. The council could set a budget that was in deficit, but the chief finance officer (acting under s114 of the Local Government Finance Act 1988 - after the Tories got wise to that trick) would refuse to sign it off. Thereafter, the council would be unable to incur any expenditure, enter into any new contracts or collect any council tax until a lawful budget was set. Services in Birmingham would actually cease to be delivered fairly rapidly. Ultimately, if the council still refused to set a budget, the Department of Communities and Local Government would send in a small team to consult with officers and agree a plan of action, which would result in a budget being set solely to meet financial demands, with no thought for services. As the council had not been able to collect council tax, this would lead to a further shortfall in our budget, meaning deeper cuts still.

I do not believe that residents in Birmingham would thank any council for playing that sort of political game and it would be a dereliction of duty on our part to play it.

Who would you rather take decisions about services that affect you - Pickles' Whitehall mob or your local councillors?

All those who cite Liverpool as an example should remember exactly what concessions the government made when faced with that stand in 1985 when the authority refused to set a budget. Nothing. Not one iota. Just as Gove is spoiling for a fight with the teachers to prove his muscularity, so Pickles would relish putting the boot into Birmingham. We know where it ends - which is why I've included the clip from Neil Kinnock's magnificent 1985 conference speech.

We're taking enough of a beating from this government already. A deficit budget would not work and would actually damage the services that this council is trying to protect.

We were elected in May to run this city and we'll do just that. The budget envelope within which we have to work is not sufficient for the needs of Birmingham, but that is not the fault of this council, but the fault of the Tory and Liberal Democrat government that sets that envelope.

We just have to do the best we can with what we have.


Anonymous said...

If you and Ian Ward don't understand what ESA (an out of work benefit) and DLA (support given regardless of work status due to additional costs of disability) are then this is very worrying.

DLA is being replaced by PIP over the next couple of years.

ESA is the replacement for incapacity benefit.

At no point does anybody move from DLA to ESA.

What the disabled community is seeing is that the descriptors used by the DWP sees disabled people excluded from receiving both DLA and ESA.

Using a tick-box threshold for qualification of 100% CTB will see the council discriminate and financially worsen the lives of disabled people already disadvantaged by the DWP.

John O'Shea said...

Any error is down to me, not Ian! I may have misquoted him. By the way, I don't claim to be an expert on benefits. If I've made a mistake, I will always correct it.

Feel free to drop me an email with more detail in confidence and I'll pass on the comments to Ian.