A distressing scenario unfolds for Birmingham City Council as it confronts the daunting task of finding ‘tens of millions’ more in budget cuts, in addition to the already devastating planned cuts of £300 million. The revelation surfaced in a report presented to the city council’s Cabinet on Tuesday, January 16, laying bare the precarious state of the council’s finances.
The warning of the ‘utter destruction of services’ came from the Conservative opposition leader for Erdington, highlighting the gravity of the situation. The dire financial state has been attributed to various factors, including financial missteps, escalating demand for services, an equal pay fiasco, the mishandled implementation of a new IT and finance system, and poor financial management over the years, aggravated by years of austerity cuts.
A spokesperson for the Lib Dems group expressed concern, stating, “The council does not appear to be fully grasping the seriousness of this situation. The financial woes have increased by tens of millions, and while there are overarching national issues with local government finances, the primary pressures here are self-inflicted by the council.”
Finance chief Fiona Greenway, the council’s Section 151 officer responsible for approving the budget, outlined ongoing efforts to cut costs while safeguarding essential services for the most vulnerable. Despite identifying £149 million in cuts for this year and £81 million for the following year, the council still falls significantly short of the necessary savings to produce a ‘legal budget.’ The report revealed a new gap of “tens of millions more,” marking the situation as unacceptable in the current financial climate.
The impact of these cuts extends beyond figures, as hundreds of council jobs are anticipated to be lost. Recent reports suggest that the number of jobs at risk could reach as high as 1,800, underscoring the human toll of these financial challenges.
To bridge the funding gap, the council is seeking permission from the government to raise council tax by up to 10%. Additionally, the council is exploring the possibility of using income from the sale of council land and properties to cover redundancy costs, equal pay liabilities linked to discrimination against female workers, and any budget shortfalls. The council may also need to request a long-term loan facility, incurring penalty rates.
While specific details of the budget cuts remain confidential, an updated list by directorate outlines where cuts will be made:
- Children and Families: £55.58 million this year, a total of £67.03 million over two years
- Adult Social Care: £25.2 million savings this year, a total of £52.3 million over two years
- City Operations: £33.89 million this year, a total of £56.74 million over two years
- Council Management: £15.76 million this year, a total of £22.59 million over two years
- Place, Prosperity and Sustainability: £8.36 million this year, a total of £12.55 million over two years
- City Housing: £6.23 million this year, a total of £9.43 million over two years
- Strategy, Equality and Partnerships: £2.44 million this year, a total of £2.59 million over two years
- Cross directorates: £1.7 million this year, a total of £7.8 million over two years
The report detailed how council officers unravelled the true extent of the financial crisis during November and December. Initially estimating an overspend of £164 million this year and a deficit of £300 million next year, a comprehensive ‘rebasing’ exercise uncovered additional issues, potentially escalating the budget gap even further.
The final figure and proposed solutions will be presented to commissioners by the end of this month, with subsequent discussions scheduled at the Cabinet and full council meeting in February. A spokesperson for the Labour party acknowledged that Birmingham is not alone in facing financial distress among councils nationwide, calling for a re-evaluation of local government financing.
In a note accompanying her report, Ms. Greenway reminded councillors of their “statutory responsibility to ensure that the council acts lawfully” and their “fiduciary duty to the council taxpayer, effectively to act as a trustee of the council’s resources and to ensure proper custodianship of (those) resources.”
Separate comments attached to the financial report from the overseeing commissioners emphasized the council’s serious financial position, urging an acceleration of efforts to address the crisis. A representative for councillors and others expressed gratitude to officers for sacrificing time with their families over Christmas to work on the budget plan, underscoring the urgency of finding viable solutions to the unprecedented financial challenges facing Birmingham City Council.