Birmingham City Council’s new budget contained several cuts which had previously been averted following much protest.
These included a reduction in taxis and minibuses to ferry children with special needs to and from school and a cuts to lollipop ladies – with schools expected to pick up the tab if their parents want them to continue.
Plans to introduce or extend car parking charges at major parks were also dusted down and revived for the new budget.
This is because, according to new leader John Clancy, after making £560 million cuts over the last five years, and facing a further £250 million in the next five, they are running out of services to withdraw or new sources of income to exploit.
“There is no more money down the back of the sofa,” he explained.
We have been told repeatedly that the low hanging fruit, such as the much-celebrated ‘back office functions’ and ‘efficiencies’, was plucked years ago.
But this year there is suddenly another £10 million a year to be found, rising to £16 million in the following years, through just that –reductions in agency staff, consultants, casual labour, more flexible working and increasing retention of good staff.
Meanwhile, there are even more savings to be made from closer working and sharing budgets with the NHS on social care. This will end duplication of service, increase economies of scale and replace demand for costly hospital beds and residential homes with more independent living in the home.
It seems that the efficiencies were there to be made after all.
The council’s new Labour leader, Mr Clancy, has been banging on for years about the sheer expense of the city council’s IT contract with Capita.
In the past, he has called the Service Birmingham deal a ‘Rolls-Royce’ contract with a cost, about £80 million per year, the council can no longer afford in this era of austerity.
His leadership bid statement he said: “The Capita-Service Birmingham contract will have to go.”
So it may either be an ironic coincidence, or a sign of someone’s (perhaps his predecessor Sir Albert Bore’s) twisted sense of humour that his first cabinet meeting saw Capita handed an extra £580,000 worth of business.
What’s more, the money is being spent on developing a business case for ‘integrated support services redesign’ – which could lead to a further £3.2 million being invested. I’m sure it’s money well spent.
Councillor still stumped by dismissal
There may be an attempt to foster a new era of conciliation and cooperation at the city council and certainly new leader Mr Clancy’s olive branch to his Tory and Lib Dem rivals demonstrated an early willingness to set aside differences for the good of the city.
But one person struggling to overcome the divisions of the past is Handsworth councillor Waseem Zaffar, who is still smarting over his dismissal in the councillors cricket match during the summer.
During a meeting of the corporate resources scrutiny committee (which he chairs), he introduced an item on sport in the city and how councillors should set an example by taking part in healthy physical activity such as their cricket match.
But he could not resist a dig at the ‘two dodgy umpires’ one of who, Tory councillor Randal Brew, sat opposite at the committee table, gave him out leg before wicket in controversial circumstances.
“I still haven’t come to terms with that,” admitted Coun Zaffar. He really should try to move on.
Someone needs a good talking to
In the midst of the Labour leadership contest, there was a political event that was sadly overlooked by ourselves in the local media.
Organised with the help of the council’s hard-working youth champion Kerry Jenkins, the Just Talk event was designed to introduce some of the city’s young people to politicians and debate key issues of the day. Indeed many councillors and MPs duly attended. I’m told one debate was on the question of whether it is right to torture terrorists. Those against the idea stood on one side of the room and the one person in support stood on the other.
Step forward Labour councillor and current deputy Lord Mayor Mike Leddy.
Baffled Coun Leddy could not see why no one else agreed with him and asked to explain himself responded: “Of course you should talk to terrorists.”
Lord Mayor's fast car
The Lord Mayor of Birmingham Ray Hassall must be careful what he wishes for.
Towards the end of the last full council meeting before Christmas, he suggested that if anyone fancies getting him a present, he has always wanted a Lamborghini.
Well of course with a six-figure price tag, not even Birmingham’s First Citizen is going to get one, especially in an age of austerity.
So some bright wag, councillor Peter Douglas Osborn, had a whip round among colleagues and raised enough cash to make the Lord Mayor’s Christmas dream come true.
Well, the Matchbox version at least.
Shame the Lord Mayor didn’t look too impressed.