Birmingham City Council leader Mike Whitby has warned that it would be a mistake to engage in the “knee-jerk” slashing of essential services amid savage Government spending cuts.
In his annual State of the City address, Coun Whitby spoke of the “gargantuan” challenge of meeting tough financial targets.
The council expects it will have to cut its budgets by £330 million over the next four years as part of a national squeeze on public finances.
While describing the challenge as immense, Coun Whitby (Con Harborne) insisted the successes of the council’s ruling Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition placed Birmingham in a good position to benefit from economic recovery when it arrives.
He added: “We have made considerable progress in building a strong financial system to address the failures of the past.
“Since taking control in 2004 we have built a sustainable long-term financial strategy and delivered efficiency savings consistently.
“We have created a low tax environment with the lowest increases in council tax across metropolitan England over the past five years.”
Firm proposals for savings will be published at the end of the year.
Coun Whitby promised full consultation with businesses, trade unions and all city councillors including the Labour opposition.
He said: “We need to be bold and imaginative and re-think how we do business and we must do all we can to work with our partners and service users. I hope we will meet this challenge together.”
He warned that efficiency savings alone would not be enough to deliver the scale of reductions being demanded by the Government.
Areas where savings could be made without harming front line services included reducing the council’s core costs, better asset management, innovative mechanisms for service delivery, maximising income streams and developing more public-private sector partnerships.
He did not directly address Labour’s claims that the council is intending to farm out more services to the private and voluntary sectors.
But Coun Whitby said he wanted to enable communities and individuals to “help themselves and each other”.
The council leader listed achievements, including the growing number of tourists visiting Birmingham and spending money in the city.
He added: “Birmingham has even been recognised in a recent poll as the top shopping centre in the UK, unsurprising perhaps when we have facilities like the Bullring. We are up there, punching our weight and doing well.”
While unemployment remained too high, he noted: “There is more to the tale of Birmingham’s employment than deprivation and under-achievement. We should not lose sight of the jobs we are creating.”