Birmingham City Council’s Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition has been accused of panicking after announcing plans to axe up to 2,000 jobs and slash spending by £75 million, reports Public Affairs Correspondent Paul Dale.
The 2010-11 city council budget, one of the toughest for years, will put Birmingham in a better position to deal with unprecedented government spending cuts over the next few years, according to chief executive Stephen Hughes.
Most of the money saved through shedding jobs and reducing some services will be used to meet growing demand for adults and children’s social care.
But the budget, accompanied by the fifth successive year of a below-inflation 1.9 per cent council tax rise and the announcement of a zero wage rise for 25,000 staff, has been greeted with horror by Labour and the trade unions.
West Midlands regional Unison official Tony Rabiotti claimed the council’s plans were “irrational”.
Mr Rabiotti said: “They are just rushing into this. There is absolutely no need to make 2,000 people redundant, given the huge number of agency workers employed by the council and the staff turnover which is about ten per cent a year.”
Opposition Labour group leader Sir Albert Bore, who led the council between 1999 and 2004, accused Mr Hughes of exaggerating the likely impact of a government spending squeeze after the General Election.
Matters were “no worse than cuts in the Thatcher years”, Sir Albert insisted, and he urged the council to seek more innovative ways of making ends meet.
Sir Albert (Lab Ladywood) added: “These are not efficiency savings being planned, they are appalling cuts to services.
“This administration is going to take us down the road where services for vulnerable people will be very badly affected.”
Tory council leader Mike Whitby did not make himself available for questions at a press briefing on the budget, which was handled by Mr Hughes and Corporate Resources Director Paul Dransfield, but later released his comments via the council press office.
Describing the 1.9 per cent council tax increase as a “remarkable” achievement, Coun Whitby (Con Harborne) added: “All the forecasts indicate the next few years will be tough for local government financially, but we still need to rise to people’s expectations. Quite simply we have to do more for less.”
Mr Hughes said he did not want to hide anything about the scale of the local government spending squeeze over the next few years.
He added: “The scale of cuts is likely to be of a magnitude that no one has seen.
“My life in local government goes back to 1979 and there has never been anything as bad as this.
According to research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, Birmingham City Council may have to find a further £115 million in savings over the next nine years if government spending cuts are at the top end of a projected scale.
This year’s £75 million cuts package, dubbed efficiency savings by the council, will be achieved largely through shedding between 1,500 and 2,000 jobs.
The figure is on top of 800 job losses this year and is equivalent to about six per cent of the total workforce.
Many of the jobs at risk are in adult social services, although front line social workers are being protected.
Jobs will also go in libraries, sports centres, parks, museums, neighbourhood offices and the housing and planning departments.
Continuing to close council-run old people’s homes and day centres will save £6 million, and a management shake-up in social services should produce £5 million.
Mr Hughes said everything would be done to avoid compulsory redundancies, but he could not rule out sackings.