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.