Ministers have challenged Birmingham City Council, claiming that they could significantly cut council tax by making further efficiency savings.
Today’s Birmingham Post reports that Local Government Minister John Healey has claimed that the authority could save as much as £26.7million a year, chopping the Band D bill by £92 per household.
Mr Healey is quoted as saying:
“The demand for efficiency has been driven by central government in the past, but in future this demand will increasingly and rightly come from local residents.
It isn’t just about how much money the Government gives to councils, it is also about how much they can save themselves to improve services or cut council tax bills.
Council tax payers and businesses rightly expect ever-improving services and better value for money. They should be entitled to know how their council is performing on efficiency when they receive their bills on their doormat.”
A recent increase in central Government funding to the council adds weight to the argument for keeping any council tax increases to an absolute minimum, and recent TPA and WMTPA findings regarding publicity spending and various taxpayer-funded extravagances combine to put forth a good case for Birmingham residents being given a council tax-cut, or at least a freeze.
In the Post’s article the unnamed spokesman for Birmingham City Council claims that having already met their 3% efficiency savings target, it is “unfair” of the Government to motivate the council into making the further savings that have been identified by this assessment, saying “it is in effect double counting the target”.
It is exactly this sort of preoccupation with targets that stops this council ever getting as far as a tax-cut for its residents.
Birmingham is by no means the least efficient council in the West Midlands. They have made necessary savings, and under its current administration council tax rises have been comparatively low. What is more, with the promise of a “substantial efficiency programme in place to deliver yet more savings in the future” presumably we can look forward to any council tax rises steadily decreasing.
Nevertheless, the council would be wise to take heed from this Ministerial advice and make cuts where cuts can be made – even, indeed, especially if that means surpassing Government efficiency saving targets.
And before feebly exclaiming that these suggestions are ‘unfair’ they should consider the public they serve and resolve that their fair treatment comes first.