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Budget crisis forces UK’s Birmingham towards service cuts, tax hikes

Birmingham City Council revealed last year it had a £300 million hole in its budget
Birmingham City Council revealed last year it had a £300 million hole in its budget - Copyright AFP Ludovic MARIN
Birmingham City Council revealed last year it had a £300 million hole in its budget - Copyright AFP Ludovic MARIN

Councillors in the UK’s second-largest city Birmingham were poised Tuesday to approve tax hikes and deep cuts to public services that could include axed arts funding and reduced rubbish collection, as the city fights to avoid bankruptcy.

Birmingham is the latest UK council to struggle with its finances, amid spiralling costs for services such as adult social care alongside decades-high inflation over the last two years and reductions in revenues.  

Many councils also blame years of under-funding by the Conservative government in Westminster, which in turn has blamed mismanagement in authorities run by the Labour opposition.

The country’s 190 largest local authorities — typically responsible for services ranging from garbage collections to street lighting — have collective budget deficits of £5.2 billion ($6.6 billion), according to BBC research last year.

Birmingham City Council revealed in November that it could not balance its books.

It blamed “long-standing issues” including the roll-out of a new computer system for an £87 million hole in its £3.2 billion annual budget.

That triggered a block on all but essential services spending while it looked at how to make cuts of around £300 million to survive.

Proposed cost-savings include making garbage collection fortnightly from 2025 instead of weekly, selling 11 community centres and scrapping all arts funding.

The government has also granted the council permission to increase the main local services tax by 10 percent this year and again next year.

Both sets of measures are set to be approved by councillors at a meeting Tuesday.

It comes the day after local counterparts in Nottingham, in England’s East Midlands, approved cuts to council jobs and services to try to plug a £53 million budget gap.

Croydon Council in south London declared itself effectively insolvent in 2022 because of a £130 million black hole in its budget.

Thurrock Council in Essex, east of London, and Woking Borough Council, southwest of the capital, followed suit in the following months.

The Local Government Information Unit (LGIU), a not-for-profit group, revealed in an annual report last week that one in 10 councils say they are likely to declare themselves at risk of bankruptcy in the next year.

That figure rose to around half over the next five years, according to responses from 128 councils across England.

“This report, for the first time, demonstrates how widespread councils’ desperate funding situation is,” LGIU chief executive Jonathan Carr-West wrote in the report.

“That there is a structural funding issue is now impossible to deny,” he added, urging reform of how local authorities are funded.

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With 2,400 staff representing 100 different nationalities, AFP covers the world as a leading global news agency. AFP provides fast, comprehensive and verified coverage of the issues affecting our daily lives.

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