‘Standing up for Birmingham’ campaign

By on 05/11/2013 in News, Service Reviews

Introduction

You will be aware that we have had a stepped approach to our savings planning, particularly in the later Service Reviews, which will enable us to progress through a series of stages in order to deliver the savings and the priorities required:

  • Step 1 - ensure direct services are at least 'best in class' regarding costs of service delivery
  • Step 2 - consider more radical service change options, which remodel our services
  • Step 3 - radical reductions and discontinuation of services

We thought that we would not reach Step 3 until 2015/16, but the reality is that we are likely to reach this position by 2014/15 and that we will have to consider discontinuing services sooner than we thought.

You will remember that in the Green Paper: Developing Successful and Inclusive Communities, we looked at a wide range of services focussed on local neighbourhoods and working directly with local communities. The review concluded that Birmingham's communities are strong and resilient - but that many people are not able to participate. It considered assets and buildings; 'co-production' and self-service; volunteering and the role of wider partners.

We want to send out a clear message today that the city council welcomes proposals from the community to take over assets or services or to make a greater contribution to delivering services through volunteering and active citizenship.

Background

Birmingham City Council will launch its formal budget consultation at the beginning of next month. We will also publish a White Paper, which shows the conclusions of our service review and Green Paper (discussion) process.

The 'Future City Council' White Paper will set out a plan for how the council needs to change in the years ahead. Without a plan for where we want to get to we would have to make fairly random cuts which would undermine our ability to deliver better services in the future. Part of that plan is the prioritisation of services so that we can protect as many services as possible, in some form, and protect the most vulnerable.

We are facing a funding crisis, as I have set out many times before. The council has already made significant savings in recent years, for example £275m has been saved in the last two financial years, with the non-school workforce reduced by 27 per cent since April 2010. Despite this we still need to save at least a further £450m by 2017/18, in addition to more than £100m in the current financial year. Plus we are also looking at further, and considerable, staff losses.

A key part of the plan for the 'Future City Council' is managing demand for services, by encouraging and supporting individuals, community groups and voluntary organisations to play a bigger role in delivering services. This will require a shift in behaviour, attitudes and culture across the city as well as within the city council.

Therefore, the very clear message we want to put out today is that we must come together as a city to tackle this challenge. 'Standing Up For Birmingham' will be a campaign for that unity and sense of purpose.

'Standing Up For Birmingham' Campaign

Launching the campaign, Sir Albert Bore said:  “Birmingham City Council is opposed to the cuts, which are being made in Westminster not Birmingham. As a result of Government decisions we, and the people of Birmingham, will see our grant funding cut by 40 per cent in a few short years. No-one in this administration came into politics to make such cuts and we oppose them as strongly as anyone in the city. But we will not let down the city by setting an illegal budget and bringing in ministers and Whitehall officials to run our city.”

The cuts are as a result of decisions made by central Government, in particular:

  • The scale of the cuts overall
  • There has been a significant bias towards cuts in local government
  • The distribution of the cuts – up to last year Birmingham's cut was £149 per head, compared to an average of £79 and just £19 for Wokingham.”

We had hoped to protect most front line facilities and services from the cuts, but the changes since 2010 have made that impossible.

Just because we disagree with the cuts does not mean we are opposed to all change. That approach would simply make it more difficult to cope with the financial crisis and to come out the other side in any shape to meet people's needs.

We must all 'stand up' and make our contribution to getting us through this crisis, and the strongest need to do their bit to protect the weakest from the impact of these cuts.

Over the next few years we will need to restate the role of the city council in a new landscape, with far less resources. But that doesn't mean we give up on our aims, values and priorities for the city.”

Individual and Community Contribution

“One of those changes is that we must give people more of an opportunity to make a bigger contribution to the city. Part of that is allowing community and voluntary groups to take over some local facilities and services. Often they can deliver a better service for less cost than the city council.

There are many examples from within Birmingham and elsewhere of this, such as youth services being run by voluntary groups in both Tower Hamlets and Manchester, groups taking over their local library, the neighbourhood repair service we have set up in some social housing estates but now need to spread across the city, the “snow wardens” who look after streets in winter in Sandwell and social enterprises such as Friends and Neighbours who support isolated older people.

There is a wealth of existing community activity in the Birmingham, which we will be celebrating and a lot of pent up enthusiasm in our communities.

Many people want to take more control of their local neighbourhood and facilities and make more of a contribution to the city. In the past we have undervalued this and not made an effort to encourage it and support it. From today this culture will change.

As a Labour administration, we share values rooted in collectivism, co-operation and solidarity and the history of mutual organisations, guilds, unions and other voluntary organisations. This campaign will echo those values.

Our message to community and voluntary groups is that we welcome your proposals to take over services and assets or contribute more to running them and we welcome any initiatives or proposals that can make a greater contribution to helping us through this crisis.

In terms of library services, for example, we are already looking at different ways of working and considering examples from around the country. As outlined in the 'successful and inclusive communities' green paper, a more radical approach fundamentally evaluates what a modern library service is and integrates this with a range of other community-focussed services, such as Neighbourhood Offices, advice centres or with services provided by the Third Sector. Also, districts are being asked to consider how other providers such as schools, colleges and the university libraries replicate services that community libraries provide.”

Next steps

“The initial phase of the campaign will run from now until next spring and in our first steps we need to identify services at risk locally; make contact with relevant groups of service users; and map community and voluntary organisations:

  • Districts will make contact with local groups and voluntary organisations
  • New social media accounts and a website will be set up
  • A new enquiry point for those wishing to register an asset of community value or seeking support for any other initiative
  • Steps to improve the process for registering community assets and additional advice to community groups
  • Mobilising community networks such as neighbourhood forums through a range of virtual and real community events
  • Gather good ideas and good practice from around the country and communicate it widely to enable people to be inspired by things happening elsewhere
  • Develop materials, such as a prospectus of opportunities and a detailed toolkit, and engage mentors.”

Existing Examples of Community Contribution

1. Volunteering - Birmingham Parks Service

More than 60,000 volunteer hours (more than 3,000 individuals) were recorded in parks last year. Officers provide opportunities for real, measurable involvement in the development, enhancement, use and promotion of their local green space.

Birmingham Open Spaces Forum (bosf.org.uk) is a network organisation which supports the volunteers and 150 Friends Groups members. It is valued as part of the community sector and is recognised nationally as a model on which other authority-wide networks can be successful.

Volunteers either work as individuals alongside rangers, in support; in groups on regular work days led by rangers; or groups doing work on their own, supervised by a trained leader.

The areas of work include: leading walks, giving talks; habitat management; grounds maintenance; litter picking and community clean-ups; administrative support; customer welcome and information; flora and fauna surveys; fundraising and community consultation; conservation of animal collections; conservation of heritage features.

2. Volunteering - Library of Birmingham

We have just activated the first batch of gardening volunteers, who will be helping to keep the terraces neat and tidy. We have had over 200 expressions of interest in other forms of volunteering, and we want to get them in as library tour guides and meet-and-greet style volunteers. The appetite is certainly there.

3. Birmingham City Football Club

News Release issued: Friday 1 November 2013:

Blues Trust, the supporters trust for fans of Birmingham City FC, is today delighted to announce that Birmingham City Council have agreed to list St. Andrew's as an Asset of Community Value.

The designation of Blues' home since 1906 has been made under the 2011 Localism Act in recognition of the stadium's importance to the local community.

The listing will last for five years and unless there is a successful appeal, means that the Council needs to be notified of any sale of the ground. The Council will then notify Blues Trust of the sale who along with other community groups would be given up to six months to buy the stadium.

Speaking of the successful outcome, Trust chairman Steve McCarthy said: “Blues Trust are delighted that the City Council have endorsed our view and listed St Andrew's as an Asset of Community Value.

As the sad case of Coventry City has shown, clubs that sell their grounds usually end up in administration.

Whilst it is not an ultimate safeguard against a potential sale of St Andrew's, the listing does bring much needed transparency to any decision by the current owners to sell the stadium and will help safeguard football at St Andrew's for future generations of Blues fans.”

4. Green Paper: Sport & Physical Activity

  • Birmingham Indoor Bowls Centre, currently based at Stirchley, will Community Asset Transfer to Moseley Rugby Club on Billesley Common, becoming a 'trust' and made possible through a combination of monies from Sport England, capital receipts and Section 106.
  • Following a successful pilot project, the Active Parks scheme will be expanded to cover 50 parks across the city from April next year. Good examples are Cotteridge Park and Walkers Heath Park, where active 'Friends Of' groups are supported and enabled by the city council but they run events and activities such as 'buggy fit' and 'family Tai Chi' themselves.

5. Community Asset Transfers (CAT)

  • The two trailblazers in 2011 were the women and children's centre at Norton Hall, Saltley; and Witton Lodge Community Centre at Perry Co (mmon) Hall.
  • Listed farmhouse Bells Farm Community Centre, Druids Heath, transferred to the Spearhead Trust offering children and family activities as a community centre.
  • Castle Vale stadium, grass pitches and an all-weather pitch and play area transferred to Castle Vale Community Housing Association on a 25-year lease.

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