Birmingham’s Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition should be ashamed for acting so forcefully to drive through public spending cuts and axing hundreds of local government jobs, a leading Labour city councillor has insisted.
Barry Henley accused cabinet members of appearing to take pride in a cull which has already achieved almost £212 million of savings and will realise more than £460 million of Government-imposed cuts by 2015.
He claimed the coalition would not now have to slash services so extensively if it was not in the position of repaying huge loans taken out to fund prestige building projects, including the new civic library and the refurbishment of New Street Station.
Coun Henley issued his attack at a full council meeting after listening to the annual report by cabinet finance member Randal Brew.
Coun Brew (Con Northfield) admitted that identifying the savings required difficult decisions, but he was proud of achievements so far and paid tribute to a “star chamber” of senior councillors and officials which meets regularly to make sure departmental spending cuts are on track.
But Coun Henley (Lab Brandwood) said the cuts were causing “pain and anxiety” to a demotivated council workforce which was operating under constant threat of redundancy. He added: “The pride you take in slashing jobs should really be shame.”
He continued: “Borrowing has risen because of New Street Station, where we will get not one extra train for over £500 million, and the library we can’t afford for £194 million.”
Coun Henley also criticised a £20 million council loan to help pay for the expansion of Warwickshire County Cricket Club’s Edgbaston stadium, which he said would not be good value for money because the ground “will be empty 90 per cent of the time”.
The council’s extensive borrowing meant that loan repayments totalling £784 million would have to be made over the next two years, presenting “considerable problems” for the local authority’s finances, he claimed. His comments were dismissed as “distortion” by council leader Mike Whitby, who said Birmingham City Council was so large that its budget could not be compared with any other UK local authority.
“We are similar to the complexity and sophistication of Barcelona and Paris,” he added.
Coun Whitby said the council had been forced to borrow more than £700 million to repair and modernise 60,000 council houses and flats, which had been left in a “chaotic state” by Birmingham’s former Labour administration.
Coun Brew insisted council officers were displaying compassion in taking spending cuts forward.
He added: “The executive has tackled head on the challenge created by the council’s need to contribute to the reduction in the defecit of the national public finances. Major progress has been made in driving out inefficiency and improving productivity, and services have been re-designed in order to improve them, as well as to deliver savings.
“Back office costs have been reduced and management structures have been streamlined, the delivery of savings has been based on clear principles,” he said.