LABOUR IN BIRMINGHAM: Mismanagement And Mess
The recently disclosed fact that Birmingham City Council is now relying on its reserves to pay its bills, despite massive spending cuts, will come as no surprise to those of us who follow the politics of the Country’s second largest city. The mismanagement of the City’s affairs has gone on for years, allowed by the fact that the Conservative opposition is weak (25 out of a total of 101) and that Labour is a totally dominant force.
If ever there was an area where just wearing a red rosette will get you elected it is Birmingham where every one of the nine MPs and a clear majority (67 of the 101 councillors) on the Council wear one. However, they also seem to have something else in common – no idea how to manage such a large organisational structure (the largest local authority in Europe) and a commitment to their own dogma in preference to the needs of the residents. There is no need to worry about getting re-elected so complacency rules. Even the skill of delegating to someone else is a problem and the Council admits to “serious disagreements” with the previous Chief Executive about his role.
The mismanagement was bought to the fore in December 2014 by the Kerslake report which laid out in no uncertain terms that better was required and detailed the main issues which needed to be addressed. A lack of a “clear vision” was identified.
It is a sad fact that it is very difficult to find even one area of local services being run well. The finances are a mess, but there is so much more, from the educational and schools scandals (Trojan Horse) to failings in social services and the dispute over bin collections which cost the Council around £300,000 a week.
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Birmingham City Council can’t even balance the books when it comes to its libraries. £189 million was spent building a vanity project library in the City Centre using mainly borrowed money and leaving ratepayers forced into paying the interest for decades to come. More than half of its two million Pounds a month running costs are on interest alone. Its opening hours have now been curtailed and some staff made redundant in order to save money. You couldn’t make it up!
They are now talking about a tax on diesel vehicles entering the City, ostensibly to help air pollution levels, but everyone knows that it is the motorists money they are really after. If they wanted to improve air quality they could start by removing obstacles to cars so that they can travel freely as well as allowing them somewhere to park when they do get there. Instead, where there are no deliberate obstacles or roadworks they have recently imposed a 20mph speed limit, spending millions on signage etc in the process!
How a diesel tax will help the troubled City retailers following the announcement of the closure of House of Fraser and how this is all being helped by retail guru and (Conservative) West Midlands Mayor Andy Street it is impossible to tell. Try and spot a strategy if you can.
Birmingham City Council was given a year in 2014 to get its act together or be broken up and have proper controls imposed but our Government is as weak and laggardly in this as they are on Brexit and nothing has been achieved. For their part, the Council said that they broadly agreed with the report, but apart from reducing the number of councillors, it is difficult to see any changes.
John Crabtree, Chairman of the improvement panel, is recently quoted as saying that the Council needs to “urgently grip” the situation and make improvements as well as “address its serious financial position” also saying that “time is running out and we need to see real progress”.
I won’t hold my breath waiting.