The presenter of this BBC radio programme, Adrian Goldberg, grew up on the Druids Heath council estate in Birmingham, the home of the ‘municipalism’ pioneered by Joseph Chamberlain when he was Mayor of Birmingham – summarised by Walsall MP John McShane in the Commons in 1930:
“A young person today lives in a municipal house, and he washes himself … in municipal water. He rides on a municipal tram or omnibus, and I have no doubt that before long he will be riding in a municipal aeroplane. He walks on a municipal road; he is educated in a municipal school. He reads in a municipal library and he has his sport on a municipal recreation ground. When he is ill he is doctored and nursed in a municipal hospital and when he dies he is buried in a municipal cemetery.”
Adrian is described as being an ideal candidate to judge the changing nature of the local council, because when he and his family moved there the local authority:
- built properties and
- collected the rent.
- Adrian took a council-subsidised bus service to
- the secondary school run by his local education authority.
- On the way home he’d drop into his council-run library to pick up some books
- or take a swim in the council run pool.
He comments, “Today the situation is much more complex”
Adrian considered the effect of austerity on the role of councils today. Birmingham council has almost halved its staff since 2008, from around 24,000 to 12,500. Last year another £28m was cut from Birmingham’s adult care budget of £230m. 2017/18 – the seventh year of cuts – is predicted to be the toughest year yet with expected reductions of £113m to the council’s overall budget, on top of £650m already cut since 2010.
Local government grants and powers have been greatly reduced in several areas, including education and housing. Read more about the following cases here.
- The fate of the formerly successful council-run Baverstock Secondary School in Druids Heath
- The group of residents who set up the Friends of Walkers Heath Park in November 2011
- The volunteers who are helping to run the library
- Druids Heath’s handsome and historic Bells Farm community centre (below), with its food bank and other services, also kept going by local volunteers.
The link also leads to news of high-rise tower blocks in the area; dilapidation, damp and fire hazards go unremedied, the splendid concierge system was abandoned and full time neighbourhood office advice centres, closed in 2006, were replaced by a private call service which was expensive, often not answering, with staff unable to supply the information needed.
In Birmingham there was a move under John Clancy’s leadership to take back ‘in-house’ the services currently undertaken by profit-making private companies, deciding not to renew one Capita contract and considering the future of refuse collection in the city. This, because the ‘market place’ economy which has developed, privatising refuse collection, road maintenance and ‘back office’ functions in Birmingham, has proved to be more expensive and often less efficient. This hope is fading as Richard Hatcher reports on the new regime: Birmingham Council Children’s Services contracted out, Children’s Centres closed.
The health and safety of council tenants is evidently not a government priority
Inside Housing reports the housing minister’s description of sprinkler systems for high rise blocks as “additional rather than essential” and refusing a council’s request for funding promised after the Grenfell Tower tragedy.
Strangely, the conservative Prime Minister expresses admiration for Joseph Chamberlain
Mayor of Birmingham in 1873, city MP in 1876, Joseph Chamberlain directed the construction of good housing for the poorest, libraries, municipal swimming pools and schools. Unlike Ms May and colleagues, he was not in favour of a market economy, arguing for tariffs on goods from countries outside the British Empire. He was also an ‘economic interventionist’ (see Lewis Goodall, Newsnight), described as a “gas and water socialist”. He took profit-making private enterprises into public hands, declaring that “profit was irrelevant”.
Ms May’s government continues to implement a series of cuts affecting the lives of the country’s poorest and most disabled with might and main.
Ironically the contemporary politician sharing Chamberlain’s principles is the opposition leader, Jeremy Corbyn, whose policies she echoes but does not implement.
The Education Secretary Justine Greening has now ordered a major review of council policies about school transport provision for disabled children. In particular she has received concerns that some parents were receiving misleading advice.
Councils are being forced to make hard choices in the face of ‘sustained financial challenges’. As the Economist reports since 2010 the budget deficit has been reduced from 10% to 4% of GDP; by 2020 it is forecast to be almost eliminated: “To achieve this, the government has slashed spending. Hardest hit has been the Department for Communities and Local Government, which provides councils with most of their funding”.
One example is that of Christine Anderson who had to leave her job to make a 60-mile round trip to school with her 15-year-old son Christopher, who has physical and learning disabilities including spina bifida and hydrocephalus.
Jonathan Carr-West of the Local Government Information Unit, says “it is clear that some councils may soon be unable to meet their statutory duties of caring for the most vulnerable”.
261 complaints about school transport decisions were made to England’s local government ombudsman in 2015-16. The figure is a marked increase, says the ombudsman, Michael King. Only Disability United – outperforming all other media articles – gave a link to his report, All on Board, Navigating School Transport Issues, which recommends that councils should:
- consult parents and schools on changes to individual pupils’ transport arrangements
- provide clear and accessible information on eligibility for free transport
- consider individual pupils’ transport needs “carefully and judiciously”
- consider wider health and safety issues as well as mobility for special needs pupils
There have been campaigns about cuts to transport for children with disabilities over the years in many areas
Demo organised by Eleanor Lisney, a Coventry campaigner and member of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC)
The Coventry Telegraph, reporting on these cuts, pointed out that local authorities are required to provide travel assistance for all children who cannot reasonably be expected to walk to school because of their mobility problems or because of associated health and safety issues related to their special educational needs or disability.
They should start making contributions to their index-linked pensions as ‘ordinary people’ do, should take pay cuts before asking others to do so.
Are MPs’ pensions are not even taxed?
It was said that the Taxpayers Alliance has discovered that MPs’ pensions are not even taxed! Seeking more information I found in the Telegraph (4.4.09):
George Bull, a partner at accountants Baker Tilly, pointed out that politicians also enjoy risk-free final salary pensions, where subsidies from taxpayers are rising after the Government Actuary’s Department disclosed a £50m shortfall this week. Mr Bull said: “The big earners for MPs are property and pensions. The problem with pensions is that the MPs work to their own special rules with generous index-linked pensions and tax-free gratuities when they retire or are voted out. The rest of us have to make our own pension provision.”