Birmingham City Council chief clashes with councillors over cutbacks
Senior politicians have clashed with Birmingham City Council’s chief executive Stephen Hughes over radical plans to cut £330 million from the city’s budget in the next four years.
One of the most controversial proposals to privatise the refuse service has been rejected.
Members of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition have rejected plans put forward by the chief executive.
Coun Timothy Huxtable (Con Bournville), who is in charge of refuse collection, confirmed that it would not be privatised or move to fortnightly collections to save money.
He added: “At the moment, they stay with the council. But that is not to say we can’t make efficiencies and improve the way we deliver these services.”
He confirmed plans to combine refuse collection and street cleaning services from next year, sending a single lorry, rather than three to each house cut costs.
Among a range of other measures being looked at to meet the predicted £330 million budget reduction are:
* Contracting out staff to private companies or even co-operatives
* Centralising many community services such as libraries, swimming pools and leisure centres to cut management costs
* Cutting grants to voluntary and community groups.
Communities who want their sports centres and libraries open longer may have to supply volunteers and more self-service libraries are also likely.
Mr Hughes made no secret of his plan to cut all but those services the council is legally required to provide.
But the politicians have reigned in many of the more radical parts of his plan, including the mass sale of council assets.
The politicians thought the plan would be electoral suicide.
Officially they are unable to confirm proposals until the Government formally announces its 2011/12 budget offer to the council in December.
City finance chief Coun Randal Brew (Con Northfield) said: “We had useful discussions, there is further to work to be done. We cannot cross the ‘i’s and dot the ‘t’s until we get the final figure from the Government.”
Coun Brew announced a new IT and council tax recovery contract which will save £135 million over the next decade.
The extended deal with private sector firm Capita, will see £35 million saved within four years, which equates to more than 10 per cent of the expected budget cuts required by the council.
Capita, through the Service Birmingham joint-venture company has overhauled an run the city council’s computer and call centre services since 2006.
The company has now agreed a five-year extension and promised to reduce existing costs and raise even more money by improving council tax collection rates above the current 96.3 per cent.
By 2017 they will be collecting 98 per cent, raising an extra £4.8 million a year.
Coun Brew said that the contract was watertight and that Capita faced financial penalties if the promised savings are not made.
He said: “Our relationship with Capita through Service Birmingham has been a successful one, as we have begun to modernise services despite this being a huge challenge for an organisation that had previously done things in traditional ways for a very long time. We need to keep this momentum up over the coming years and the proposals will do this.”
Under the deal 152 council tax recovery staff will be transferred to Capita with their terms and conditions protected.