Birmingham City Council has abandoned a series of proposed high profile service cuts following legal action and widespread consultation with the public.
Policies to slash social care funding from 4,000 elderly and disabled people, £500,000 of youth service cuts and the closure of respite care home for disabled children Charles House in West Heath have all be scrapped.
Meanwhile, a £3.8 million cut to the supporting people programme to help those in housing needs has been halved, and changes to the home to school transport service are being looked at.
Despite the reversals, the Tory-Lib Dem council is ploughing ahead with £61.9 million cuts to its £3.5 billion budget, while maintaining a council tax freeze for the second year running.
The tax freeze, which will see average band D bill for council services in Birmingham remain at £1,113, has come courtesy of an £8.6 million incentive payment from Local Government secretary Eric Pickles.
It was claimed that the council is meeting its cuts thanks to a £10 million budget boost via the NHS, greater efficiencies and reductions in ‘back office’ costs, contracting out of some areas and a cut of 1,144 jobs.
The opposition Labour group claims that the cuts listed in the budgets are ‘wishful thinking’, based on optimistic projections.
City leader Mike Whitby was flanked by his deputy Paul Tilsley, the Cabinet member for finance Randal Brew, chief executive Stephen Hughes, strategic director of corporate resources Paul Dransfield and director of finance Jon Warlow for the announcement.
Cllr Whitby said: “Local people are working hard, but seeing a reduction in living standards. So we are keeping council tax low to protect those on low and fixed incomes, pensioners. This means more money in their pockets.”
The council budget, he argued, was still providing value for money despite £212 million of cuts this year and £61.9 million next.
He said that he hopes to avoid compulsory redundancy, and that many workers would either be contracted out to other organisations or transferred to other areas within the council.
Until last year the council had provided social care to elderly and disabled people whose care was rated as ‘critical’ and ‘substantial’. But then the funding was cut to those in the second category prompting a judicial review, which suspended the cut due to lack of consultation. But rather than reconsult, the council has decided to abandon the policy and reinstate the £38 million funding to the service.
Coun Whitby (Cons, Harborne) said: “Last year we looked at reform of our care services, but now have decided it is right to reinstate the care packages and provide services for a larger number of people.”
Deputy leader Paul Tilsley stressed: “The eligibility criteria for social care will remain the same, bins will still be emptied every week, no libraries, leisure centres or swimming pools will be closed and roads will be repaired.”
The council bosses claimed that the savings made are through more efficient working and even held their briefing in the new Woodcock Street office block at Aston University where 3,000 staff from a vast collection of old offices scattered throughout the city have been moved to save money. A TeleHealth Care scheme, in cooperation with the NHS, will see more elderly and disabled people given electronic testing kits which will save costs by enabling health and care workers to monitor their heart rates, blood pressure and so on without the cost of expensive and time consuming daily visits and reduce the need for costly residential care.
In a similar way the council claims that changes in children’s social care will enable them to make £5.3 million from the Children’s Centre budget without closing a single centre. Instead it will focus on early intervention with families in difficulty to avoid heavier costs later on.
Opposition Labour leader Sir Albert Bore, who hopes to be running the council after May’s local election, said: “On my first look at the budget proposal it is very difficult to establish exactly where the cuts are coming from.
“Hardly any seem to be identified in any detail. They owe more to wishful thinking than firm proposals.”
Also not convinced is Ravi Subramanian, the regional secretary of the council’s largest trade union Unison, who said that the cuts would still affect jobs and communities.
He said: “I am shocked at the impact this will have on services for local communities and the staff who will lose their jobs. It will also have a massively destructive effect on the local economy.”