OPINION: A view from the Vale – Cllr Ray Goodwin

Words by Cllr Ray Goodwin (Castle Vale Ward, Labour)

It’s been a busy few weeks on Castle Vale.

Work is about to start shortly on Filton Croft and by the time you will have read this we will have held our Crime and Community Safety Summit.

A lot has been said over the last few weeks about politicians not listening to the communities they represent, but one of the things I have done over the last two years has been open and accessible to residents – this is why my regular estate walk abouts are so important, it means I can talk to residents to listen to their concerns and issues and deal with them straight away where possible.

My commitment is to continue to do this and talk to as many people as possible on a daily and weekly basis and discuss what matters to them most, Castle Vale!

I want local democracy to be at the heart of everything I do, and this is the best way to do this. I see residents on a daily basis for appointments. But, also, I hold a monthly advice surgery for residents as well.

Whilst over the last two years a lot of good things have happened – including securing a new bus route to the fort shopping centre.

There is now, however, more to do, and I will be leading the charge to the West Midlands mayor that there is a train station and that station is called ‘CASTLE VALE’.

For more from Castle Vale Councillor Ray Goodwin visit www.facebook.com/thisiscastlevale 

OPINION: A view from the Vale – Cllr Ray Goodwin

Words by Cllr Ray Goodwin (Castle Vale Ward, Labour)

Castle Vale is a community rich in talent with good and decent people who look out for each other – and this became really apparent over the last few weeks with the high-profile incident on Castle Vale High Street. 

It is because of the amazing community that Castle Vale is resilient and will bounce back bigger, better stronger.

However, I won’t be resting on my laurels and I will be making sure Castle Vale is getting the best deal possible. I will be holding a ‘Crime and Community Safety Summit’ on the 18 May 2024 at Greenwood Academy from 1.30pm onward.

I will be inviting a representative from the Police and Crime Commissioner’s office, the West Midlands Mayor’s office, and the Erdington MP Paulette Hamilton. The Pioneer Group housing association has already agreed to attend.

My biggest ask is that we reopen a visibly present police station.

The Pop-Up Police Station is great, but it’s not enough. We need to ensure that the incident that occurred on 5 April on the High Street is an isolated incident, and that we do more to not only tackle crime but to deal with the issues that lead to crime.

I won’t be taking no for an answer, and I won’t allow Castle Vale to be treated like second best.

I will stand up be counted and do what needs to be done to represent this amazing community.

For more from Castle Vale Councillor Ray Goodwin visit www.facebook.com/thisiscastlevale

OPINION: My thoughts on Birmingham’s budget – Gravelly Hill Councillor Mick Brown

Words by Cllr Mick Brown (Gravelly Hill Ward, Labour & Co-operative) / Pics from Birmingham Labour and Erdington Local archives

As the Councillor for Gravelly Hill, I wanted to give my thoughts on Birmingham’s budget, the difficult decisions that had to be made and the impact the council cuts are likely to have.

As Councillors we have been left will no alternative other than to get the council back on a sound financial footing, but like many of my council colleagues it was with a very heavy heart that I voted for this budget. 

When I talk to Gravelly Hill residents about their concerns over what has happened in Birmingham, there are the four commonly asked questions:

What’s gone wrong here?
I believe that the Council needs to take responsibility for its part in the failings, which include both the ongoing equal pay liability and the botched implementation of the Oracle computer system.  For this reason, I’m backing the call for an independent inquiry so that the people of Birmingham can see that there is accountability for what’s gone wrong here.

The failure to deliver savings in previous years, is a further reason for the need to save £300 million over the next two years. However, much of the savings we have had to find are due to increased costs, and more people needing our services due to the cost-of-living crisis.

Is this just happening here?
While some of this situation is unique to Birmingham, the constant underfunding of local government is an issue for councils up and down the country regardless of political persuasion.  Birmingham has lost over a billion pounds over the last decade, as we are all being hit by inflation and rapidly increased demand for services such as adult social care and childcare services.

What’s been protected?
We will still have millions to spend on services, for example the Council has safeguarded the future of the Wellbeing Leisure Centres, and the aim is to ensure a £1 million fund for youth services across the city. While the cuts are far larger than we would have wanted to have made, with the adult care being cut by 6% and children and young people services cut by 14%; the rising demand for both services means that the amount of money spend is rising despite the budget cuts.

What’s happening next?
We know that the way the council works needs to change, and we need to get better at working with partners across the city. We are going to consult with the people of Birmingham on how you want services to be delivered in your local area, so that we give people the support that they need in the most effective way possible.

As councillors we all have a role to play going forward standing up for our communities and ensuring that the transformation of the Council delivers the better basic services that the residents of Birmingham deserve.

Click here for more from Gravelly Hill Councillor Mick Brown (Labour & Co-operative).

OPINION: A view from the Vale – Cllr Ray Goodwin

Pic supplied by Cllr Ray Goodwin (Castle Vale Ward, Labour)

I spent a few minutes reflecting on what to say, so here goes; I was hugely humbled to be elected in May 2022 as councillor for Castle Vale.

I promised to work tirelessly to get the best deal possible for Castle Vale, and in the period since May 2022 we have some big achievements – these include:

  • Securing the funding to rebuild Filton Croft Play Area and have a new park, shortly to be installed
  • Securing further funding to renovate all the parks on Castle Vale
  • Hold a fortnightly Pop Up Police Station
  • Campaigned for and secured the 64 Bus service that now runs to the Fort, Erdington High Street, and ASDA Minworth
  • New traffic crossings and road resurfacing – most notable by Sainsburys at Castle Vale and Innsworth Drive have been resurfaced.
  • Monthly Advice Surgeries
  • Weekly estate walks abouts to meet residents and understand their issues

This is just a small flavour of the achievements since May 2022. However, there is much more to come.

I will not be sitting on my laurels; I will be continuing to work hard and fight for Castle Vale – starting with the proposed train station. If the train station is located on Castle Vale, then it needs to be called Castle Vale and nothing else. And I will not be taking NO for answer.

I have said it once and I will say it a million times, Castle Vale is a rich diverse community full of amazing residents and organisations. Not only is it the best of what Birmingham is, it represents the best of all of us and this country.

So yes, I am and will always be deeply proud and humbled to be elected to represent Castle Vale.

For more from Castle Vale Councillor Ray Goodwin visit www.facebook.com/thisiscastlevale

NEWS: Birmingham City Council agree Financial Recovery Plan which could see Erdington assets sold and a rise in Council Tax

Words by Ed King

On Monday 25 September, Birmingham’s elected officials approved a Financial Recovery Plan which could see assets from Erdington and across the city sold to pay off the Council’s debt, as well as a potential rise in Council Tax introduced.

In a heated four hour Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM), councillors from the city’s ten constituencies debated the two Section 114 notices recently issued – which effectively declared the city ‘bankrupt’, highlighting Birmingham City Council (BCC) does not have enough financial reserves to balance its books – before voting on a four point strategy presented by BCC Chief Executive Deborah Cadman.

The first recommendation in the BCC Financial Recovery Plan was to ‘Agree to accept the Section 114 notice issued on 5th September 2023’, allowing the Council to move forward and work with government appointed commissioners. The vote was carried.

The following three recommendations outlined approaches that could either save or generate money for BCC, including an ‘Assets Review to identify options to raise funds’ – which could pave the way for Erdington’s libraries, parks, community hubs, and leisure centres being sold on the commercial market, alongside other BCC assets from across the city.

Also included were spending control measures until emergency and balanced budgets could be approved, a potential ‘Organisational Redesign’ of ‘services around citizens’, and an ‘Income Review to maximise sustainable income from all sources’ – including Business Rates, Council Tax, and Grants. The vote for these recommendations was also carried.

According to BCC’S official list of property published in 2019 – the latest Erdington Local could find – the Erdington constituency has 464 assets owned by Birmingham City Council, excluding social housing and operational public highways.

These include social hubs such as both Erdington and Kingstanding Leisure Centres, Highcroft Community Centre, Elim Pentecostal Church, the Magnet Centre, The British Legion Social Club in Perry Common, Stockland Green Sports Centre, and Lakeside Childrens and Family Learning Centre.

These Erdington facilities could now be sold to address the financial crisis faced by Birmingham City Council.

Birmingham City Council could also look to sell the green spaces in its portfolio, which according to the 2019 published portfolio includes allotments across Erdington – from Castle Vale to Wyrley Birch – Erdington Playing Fields, Twickenham Road Playing Fields, Short Heath Playing Fields, Spring Lane Playing Fields, and Yenton Playing Fields.

Larger public spaces such as Brookvale Park, Rookery Park, Highcroft Park, and Pype Hayes Park could also be sold – alongside Perry Common and Witton Lakes.

Also back under question is Erdington Library, which recently fought off a proposal from BCC that would have seen its entire facility squeezed into the corner children’s library area, and Erdington Baths, which was recently promised £2m from BCC to aid the development of an Enterprise Hub – as delivered by Witton Lodge Community Association (WLCA).

Birmingham City Council is facing a projected deficit of £87m for 2023/24 and legal bill of ‘between £650 million and £760 million’ for new claims over equal pay, having already remunerated thousands of historic claimants over £1bn in liabilities.

In response to the growing financial crisis faced by BCC, the first Section 114 notice was issued by Birmingham City Council’s Interim Director of Finance, Fiona Greenway, on 5 September.

A following notice was then issued on 21 September, alongside a further Section 5 notice from the City Solicitor, after calls of inaction over plans for a workable job evaluation scheme.

Ahead of commissioners coming to take over Birmingham’s finances – as appointed by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) – a Financial Recovery Plan was published by the BCC Chief Executive, Deborah Cadman, on 25 September.

An Extraordinary General Meeting was held that evening, with all councillors requested to attend, to debate and vote on the recommendations presented.

Council Leader John Cotton (Glebe Farm and Tile Cross, Labour) was the first elected official to speak, stating “(Birmingham City) Council is at a crossroads” and recognising the “severe challenges that we face”.

Cllr Cotton went on to “apologise to the people of Birmingham” for the “stark choices” and “worrying times” as the City presents a plan to save itself from financial ruin.

Erdington Ward councillor and Leader of Birmingham Conservatives, Robert Alden, was next to speak, acknowledging the “sad day for the city” and “tragic” circumstances Birmingham City Council now found itself in, following a “shameful amount of inaction across the summer” from the Council leadership.

Cllr Alden further presented a litany of official opportunities and advice given to BCC to address the equal pay liabilities over recent years, as well as highlighting the debt accrued was “a council issue” and that “the city of Birmingham has a bright future ahead of it; the city of Birmingham is full of amazing people.”

Alden added:  “And the city will rise like a phoenix from the ashes of this mess that’s been created by the Labour administration.”

A total of 30 local councillors stood up to address the Lord Mayor and Council Chamber during the EGM on Monday, 25 September – including Cllr Alden’s counterpart in the Erdington Ward, Cllr Gareth Moore.

Cllr Moore was quick to admit he was “quite frankly embarrassed and ashamed” over the “unprecedented” financial crisis facing the city.

He added: “Birmingham is an amazing city full of passionate people with a rich and diverse history, and yet the reputation and finances of this Council have been ruined by chronic mismanagement by the Labour leadership”.

No councillors from any of the remining six political Wards in the Erdington constituency spoke at the EGM, although time cut short the requests from six elected officials who were not given the chance to address the Chamber.

Commissioners appointed by the DLUHC will now begin working with Birmingham City Council to address the financial crisis.

NEWS: Erdington Ward Councillor issues open letter to Council Leader asking for ‘transparency and honesty’ about cuts to services or selling of assets following Section 114 notice

Words by Ed King

Erdington Ward Councillor and the Leader of Birmingham Conservatives, Robert Alden, has issued an open letter to the Leader of Birmingham City Council (BCC) calling for “transparency and honesty” over plans to save the City following the Section 114 notice issued on 5 September – including any proposed cuts to services or selling of Council assets.

Sent to Cllr John Cotton (Glebe Farm & Tile Cross, Labour) earlier today, the letter identifies 13 separate requests for information and documentation – asking for all to be included in the “document pack” issued ahead of an Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM) on 25 September.

Click here to download a PDF of the letter issued from Cllr Alden to Cllr Cotton on 19 September

Following the issuing of a Section 114 notice, the Labour run Birmingham City Council declared it was unable to meet the financial requirements to run the city – citing a projected deficit of £87m for 2023/24 and legal bill of ‘between £650 million and £760 million’ for new claims over equal pay.

The EGM on 25 September will be when the Council will meet to discuss the Cabinet’s plans to pull the Local Authority back from financial ruin – including any potential cuts to public services and any assets within the City’s portfolio that could be sold.

Included in the letter sent by Cllr Alden to Cllr Cotton are calls for “all correspondence” between the Cabinet “relating to the issuing of the s114 notice”, including the date and times of phone calls.

It also asks the Council Leader to release “reports and briefings to Cabinet Members” from the last four years about the Job Evaluation Scheme, a “list of dates and times Officers have emailed” to the Leader’s office about equal pay in the last six years, and “the public and private cabinet reports of 2017 and 2019 relating to the waste dispute resolution”.

There are further specific requests to see any “proposals” sent to the Department of Housing, Levelling Up, and Communities (DHLUC) since Cllr Cotton was elected as Council Leader in May 2023 – alongside any “financial measures including solutions/savings/cuts/sales” that have been suggested by the City as part of the recovery package.

After the shock announcement of the Section 114 notice on 5 September, concerns have been mounting across Birmingham about where the money will come from to balance the Council’s books – as managed by an external team of commissioners, appointed by the DHLUC.

Birmingham City Council Chief Executive Deborah Cadman has already outlined aspects of the City’s £2.4bn property portfolio which could be sold, including museums, art galleries, and even the newly built Library of Birmingham.

In Erdington, public assets previously earmarked for community use and constituency redevelopment initiatives are now once again under threat – despite commitments from Birmingham City Council to finance and support the projects.

Public buildings in Erdington that could now be sold include Erdington Library, which recently fought off plans to decimate its facilities to make way for a developments led by Adult Social Care.

Erdington Baths could also find itself on the commercial market, despite recently securing funding from BCC and the West Midlands Combined Authority to become a new Enterprise Hub – designed and delivered by Witton Lodge Community Association (WLCA).

Campaigners for Short Heath Playing Fields are also preparing to once again fight off potential developments on the green space that do not pertain to community sports – after a three year battle to stop BCC’s previous plans to build an 84 strong housing estate on the parkland.

Before leaving office, previous Council Leader Cllr Ian Ward had issued a license agreement to SHFT giving them responsibility for Short Heath Playing Fields until May 2024. Cllr Ward further stated in a letter to Erdington MP Paulette Hamilton that regarding any potential sales BCC’s “intention will be to market it as a sports field.”

A spokesperson for SHFT told Erdington Local: “For the last three years our community battled to save these playing fields and be in a position where they are secured for future use.

“There are few places left for us to use for sporting activities and we are very concerned that this will result in promises made being broken, and our playing fields being sold off for something other than sporting activities.”

In a separate statement issued today, Cllr Alden added: “Birmingham Local Conservatives are clear the sale of cultural and heritage assets would be totally unacceptable, they were left for the people of Birmingham to enjoy in perpetuity not for a Labour Council to flog off to fix their mistakes.”