NEWS: Pype Hayes resident launches petition to ‘Stop Birmingham City Council’s Unfair Council Tax Increase’

Words by Ed King

Pype Hayes resident, Daniel Edge, has started an online petition to ‘Stop Birmingham City Council’s Unfair Council Tax Increase’ – amassing hundreds of signatures a day from people across the city.

Launched on 10 January, the petition set a target of 1500 signatures which it is well on course to reach.

At the time of writing, only five days after the petition went live on the recognised campaigning website Change.org, 1358 people had put their name down in support – with 228 recorded in a single day.

To access the petition to ‘Stop Birmingham City Council’s Unfair Council Tax Increase’ on Change.org, click here.

Birmingham City Council (BCC) has recently come under question after they wrote to the government last year, to get Westminster to allow the beleaguered local authority to increase Council Tax above the legal limit of 4.99% without holding a referendum.

Current laws limit the amount a local council can increase their yearly Council Tax charge to residents without a public vote on the matter.

But following BCC’s financial crisis, after the city issued a Section 114 notice in September 2023 – effectively declaring itself bankrupt – the drastic step has been taken to get government approval to jump those restrictions, meaning Birmingham residents could face an increase of up to 21% on their Council Tax bills over the next two years.

The decision to approach central government to allow such a significant hike in Council Tax, without the legally required public consultation or vote, was approved by BCC in a full Cabinet meeting in December 2023 – with Council Leader John Cotton stating it would only be implemented “if necessary”.

Cllr Cotton added: “It’s clear that we’ll need to seek exceptional financial support from the government in order to bring the council’s budget back into balance.

“These are obviously very tough times, we’ve got some difficult and challenging decision ahead of us in shaping this budget.”

On 5 September 2023, Birmingham City Council issued a Section 114 notice after facing a budget shortfall of around £84m for their next accounting year.  

There were also reported debts over equal pay liabilities amounting to an estimated £760m and costs surrounding the Oracle IT system of up to a further £100m – although these figures have been questioned by some sources in the city.

With a team of commissioners now overseeing Birmingham’s bank balance, local residents are worried they will end up footing the bill for BCC’s mistakes – seeing “unfair” increases in Council Tax and losing services.

Speaking to Erdington Local about his decision to start a petition to ‘Stop Birmingham City Council’s Unfair Council Tax Increase’, Daniel Edge explained: “I was moved to create the petition because of the unfairness and injustice of the proposed council tax hikes.

“Birmingham has 1.1M citizens of various socio-economic groups and a large proportion of those will be significantly impacted by these above inflation increases.

“It is simply not fair that the council tax payers are picking up the pieces of over 10 years of financial mismanagement. I’m happy for a 4.99% increase, the most the council can do without seeking government approval, but not a penny more.”

One signee of the petition comments: “I’m a resident of Birmingham and the councillors should be held to account for their mismanagement of finances over the years as opposed to this ridiculous increase in council tax.”

Another adds: “Daylight robbery! Stealing from the poor full stop for mis-management of public funds.”

Whist a further supporter of the petition ends their comment by saying: ”… I am being penalised for being a good resident and paying my way. I am not prepared to be a cash cow.”

To read more on the petition to ‘Stop Birmingham City Council’s Unfair Council Tax Increase’ visit: www.change.org/p/stop-birmingham-city-council-s-unfair-council-tax-increase

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.”