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.
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.”