So Birmingham City Council are looking to freeze council tax at 1.9% this year and plan to keep it there right up until 2018 whilst pursuing an “aggressive cost-cutting programme aimed at eliminating waste”. But while many will view this as good news, it still begs the question, if BCC are ‘aggressively eliminating waste’ at ten-to-the-dozen, why have local residents been denied the hope of a tax-cut for the foreseeable future?
A 1.9% rise probably isn’t to be sniffed at and certainly shames other local councils who are announcing council tax rises as steep as 4.8%, after all it’s below inflation and leaves Birmingham taxpayers a respectable £88 per year better off than residents in any other UK city. But this rise is still hard to swallow when we know that the city council still spends millions upon millions on spin, middle-management and council staff pensions.
And it now appears that Birmingham City Council don’t have much faith in some of the cost cutting measures they are implementing - perhaps that’s why their playing it so safe. Just this week the Birmingham Post reported that many councillors have questioned the ambitious £90m of savings their 'Excellence in Information Management Programme' is supposed to yield by switching from paper to electronic documents:
“Coun Clark (Con Quinton) described the projected savings of £90 million, after expenditure on new equipment of £33 million, as “guesswork”. He described reports setting out how the savings would be achieved as “no more than a selling package”.Coun Clark added: “No sensible person would invest their own money on the basis of this prospectus.”
And The Stirrer similarly spoke out about the council’s Business Transformation scheme:
“Only last year, official forecasts suggested savings worth £3.4 million would be delivered in 2009-10; now that’s been revised to show the Council making an investment of £2.7m – an extra £5million burden that will fall on taxpayers.
It’s a similar story the year after, where anticipated savings of £36.8 million have been downscaled to £18.3 million…while savings of £44.6 million in 2011/12 are have now been revised downwards to £33.1 million.
And so on in future years.
Who’s to say, when the time comes, that these savings won’t be wiped out – just like next year’s?”
The city council told us that they were investing money to save money, but with the estimated savings dwindling at an unexpected rate, residents would be right to question whether any real savings will be made from these consultant-driven exercises in costly and disaster prone IT wizardry.
In the current economic climate, we’d like to see all West Midlands councils make a concerted effort to dramatically cut their costs in a more practical, palpable way, and with a recent track-record of council tax freezes, who better than Birmingham City Council to lead the way? Let’s have a real council tax-cut rather than one of these oxymoronic ‘lowest rises’. And how about some real visible fat-trimming, rather than speculative and enormously expensive computer projects?
During a recession, can BCC continue to justify a £10million-per-year publicity spend? Or constant first class trips to far-flung destinations under the banner of ‘attracting inward investment’? Or recruiting yet more middle-managers on £50k+ salaries to fill positions that never existed ten years ago and raising their pay year on year? These are tough times, and if BCC want to get aggressive with wasteful spending, then these are the places to start.
Rather than holding out at 1.9% for the next 9 years, Birmingham City Council should be raising the bar and predicting the sort of cuts that, in the long run, could be a real help to families suffering financially - a better promotional tool than any posters or press releases their publicity team could care to churn out.