Birmingham & Black Country

'Time running out' for Birmingham City Council, panel says

Birmingham City Council Image copyright PA
Image caption Birmingham City Council admits it has been using its reserves to balance the books

"Time is running out" for Birmingham City Council to "urgently" make improvements, a report has said.

An independent panel looking into the running of the council said the authority must address its "serious financial position".

It follows the resolution of the city's bin dispute which cost the authority £300,000 a week.

The council has been using "substantial reserves" to help balance its books, a report said.

An Independent Improvement Panel was tasked with scrutinising the authority after the government released its Kerslake report of 2014 following an inquiry into the so-called Trojan Horse case.

It had looked set to move on in August but remained amid the row over the collection of bins in the city.

An Improvement Stocktake report, released on Friday, said the council faced significant financial challenges, having made £642m of cuts since 2011 with a further £123m expected by 2021/22.

It said that "reserves have been required to balance and deliver the [council's] budget since 2015/16" and it expects this to continue during 2018/2019.

Analysis by Kathryn Stanczyszyn, BBC political reporter

Birmingham City Council (BCC) was given a year to get its house in order back in 2014 after a series of failings brought the government to its door. The Kerslake Review found major issues with governance and the way key services were being run. It said things had to change - or the council could face being taken over, or broken up.

But that year came and went, and now four years have passed. During that time there have been lots of cautious reports from the independent panel saying to some degree progress was being made. It even looked like they were actually ready to say BCC was back on track last summer.

But then the bin strike happened. This highlighted all the same failings that had been documented before. Add to that the fact the council hasn't been able to balance the last three budgets and the Conservative opposition describes today's news as 'last chance saloon' - saying the Labour administration could end up bringing about the council's demise.

The leadership claim this honest report is them finally grasping the problem. But it makes clear there could be some potentially very unpalatable savings to come.

'Change the culture'

"Serious disagreements" about the role of the authority's chief executive also contributed to the 2017 bin dispute, the report said.

The council hopes to now "fundamentally change the culture of the organisation" by reviewing the definitions of members' roles.

Image caption The council's new chief executive said he is determined to "drive through changes in the organisation"

Since the bins dispute ended in November the council said it estimated £3m a year could be saved by changing refuse workers' hours.

The council's new chief executive, Dawn Baxendale, said she is determined to "drive through changes in the organisation", a message mirrored in the authority's letter to the Secretary of State over the report.

John Crabtree, chair of the improvement panel, said the council needs to "urgently grip" and make improvements as well as "address its serious financial position".

"Time is running out and we need to see real progress."

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