Speech on ‘no confidence’ motion
Lord Mayor, I get it. This is a motion for the headlines, to put on leaflets. The headlines, we have had. The leaflets will come. That is politics, and it would be unwise to get too upset about it. But as our colleagues have been so kind as to give us the space to talk about how local places are funded, and how we work through that as a city let’s talk. Let’s talk about all of the ways that the Coalition and current Government has acted — deliberately — to undermine the people of this city and their local power, including in the setting of local budgets.
Let’s talk about the ballooning housing benefit bill that the Government is allegedly so concerned about. Let’s talk about homelessness — both of which we carry the can for. People of all political parties and none know that the answer is pretty simple: more housing in general, and more affordable housing in particular. But are we in a position to put together a business case for borrow-to-build? A business case that would reduce the benefits bill, reduce homelessness, and generally represents a sound investment for decent returns? No, we are not. Because of a weird, ideological obsession that this Government has about local authorities should not be building homes. Well, I say weird. Most of them are buy-to-let landlords, so we know on which side their bread is buttered.
So let’s talk about Social Care. Let’s look to other local authorities, of all political shades. Let’s look to Councillor Izzi Seccombe, the Conservative Leader of Warwickshire, a portfolio-holder in our Combined Authority. Speaking following an Autumn Statement which, unaccountably, found nothing to say on social care, Cllr Seccombe did not hold back: “the Government’s failure to act today means social care remains in crisis, councils and the NHS continue to be pushed to the financial brink”. She continues, and I make no apologies for using her words, as they are the right ones: “we have estimated that social care for the elderly and disabled faces a funding gap of at least £2.6bn. Extra Council Tax-raising powers will not bring in enough money to alleviate the pressure on social care and councils will not receive the vast majority of new funding in the Better Care Fund until the end of the decade. Services supporting our elderly and vulnerable are at breaking point now.” Cllr Seccombe is right. But the Government did not break their silence.
Let’s talk about Council Tax — a tax based on the value of our homes…25 years ago. Yes, that’s right mathematicians: 1991. I was seven years old then, for the record. I challenge you to find anyone who thinks that a sensible basis for taxation, anyone who thinks this an optimal way to fund local services. But will the Government entertain Council Tax reform? Will they hell — because that means they have to loosen the cold grip of central control on what we do in our cities, our neighbourhoods. They won’t even let us use it to raise more money without employing their weapon of choice, the referendum. Too scared to make a decision? Call a referendum. Don’t want to have actual conversations with people about how they think the world should work? Call a referendum. Don’t fancy taking your plans to a general election? Call a referendum. It makes me furious
Lord Mayor, setting a balanced budget with shrinking and shifting resources is challenging. It means that you make errors. I am not blind to my responsibility here, or to that of my colleagues. But nor am I blind to the context which makes it increasingly impossible for local government of all political shades to do right by their citizens. Lord Kerslake wanted Birmingham to be a more outward looking city, and I suggest that our colleagues embrace that advice, and return to joining us in pushing us for the return of our citizens’ resources. Thank you.