In the current landscape of local government, Birmingham is being held up as a sacrificial lamb, and like other Labour controlled authorities, have faced disproportionate and swingeing reductions to their funding as a result of the government’s ideologically driven austerity programme.
The seeds of change that have been regularly voiced, particularly by Sir Albert and his infamous ‘jaws of doom’, warning us of the end of local government as we know it have clearly been sown and are now impacting on us all at a more local level.
The main item on last night’s Hall Green Ward meeting was our budget. A budget that had painstakingly put together over several months. A budget that will have very real effects on people’s lives. And a budget that will have a massive impact on all residents in Hall Green.
Putting the budget into some context, the reality of the situation is that Hall Green District must make savings of £1,098,000 for 2014/14 rising to £1.546,000 in 2015/16. This equates to a third of its controllable budget. Therefore, unsurprisingly, the budget included some very difficult proposals, based on very real choices being made between jobs and services.
So despite these choices, this is a budget that saves our library services. That saves our school crossing patrols. That still allows for a relatively large amount of community chest funding. A budget that maintains our youth service provision, our play service provision and one that will continue to support community arts.
All pretty good news for the residents of Hall Green? Well, perhaps not.
This was also a budget that was passed at the last District Committee by majority vote. Quite simply, the three Liberal Democrat Councillors for Hall Green District, all voted against it. Not only did they vote against it, they refused to attend meetings to discuss budget options; they put no other alternative proposals forward; they gave no indication as to which parts of the budget they agreed or disagreed with. During the whole of this debate, about the most important aspect of OUR budget, the Liberal Democrat representative for Hall Green said nothing. Yes that is right . That representative failed to speak at all and failed to contribute to the debate. That says something about their contempt for you as an electorate. #Failing to stand up for us in Hall Green.
I took the opportunity at last night’s Ward meeting to ask our Liberal Democrat Councillor these questions but it turned into a bit of a PMQs scenario with lots of huffing and puffing, lots of hot air and red faces and with my questions remaining pretty much unanswered (I clearly empathise with Ed here) and with no real clarity being given for the refusal to back this budget.
What I find even more astounding is the point blank refusal by the Liberal Democrat Councillor for Hall Green to enter into any discussions that might be deemed in any way to be ‘political’. If ever the words ‘your government’ are spoken she retreats behind an invisible shield of ignorance.
I believe that local politics cannot just be about dog poo, dropped litter and grass verges…it must also encompass the complexities, challenges and difficulties that directly affect us all. We are real people with very real, but also very different problems.
Local issues such as littering are of course important concerns for the community and it is only right and proper that they be discussed and addressed. But problems being experienced by members of our local community, as a result of decisions made at a national level, such as the implementation of universal benefits and of course the unfair Bedroom Tax have resulted in real hardship for many of our own.
Our local politicians must be accountable to us, the electorate, and should be able to offer us an educated and reasoned argument for the decisions they take as our elected members.
But I also believe that they should be big enough to stand up and share the responsibility for the decisions taken by the political parties whose badges they wore to win our votes.