Tuesday, March 28, 2006

District Committee

I spent an interesting evening at the District Committee last week. Here, members of the public get to take part in discussions around issues that affect districts (groups of wards). Acocks Green is currently in the Sparkbrook district, alongside Springfield and Sparkbrook wards.

Of particular interest was the District Budget.

Although the overall budget increases from £9.08 million to £9. 28 million, a large chunk of that is taken up with a doubling of the administration budget (although the paperwork prepared for the meeting suggested that the increase was closer to 1000%). The poor council officer thrown to the wolves to present the budget tried his best, but wasn't able to give answers to questions from the floor. I queried the increase in the admininstration budget, but also the slashing of the allocations to school crossing patrols and pest control, which were cut by 22% and 40% respectively. Also under attack was sport and leisure, which took a hammering to the tune of £81,000 or 3.8%, and community development, which lost 5.7% or £21,000.

The council officer had been told that environmental services were reducing their budget because of a reduction in demand. That's curious, because environmental services had submitted a bid to the Ward Advisory Board only a few days before for a sum of around £37,000. This was rejected as a bid by the WAB, because it was felt that pest control should be funded centrally and not through the Neighbourhood Renewal Fund - a decision with which I agreed at the time. Usually, whenever council departments come to WAB for funding for what should be core functions, that means that they've had their budgets cut.

Similarly, the cuts to the school crossing patrol service was made to realign budgets across the city, apparently. I couldn't work out the logic behind that - surely the principle should be to assess the need, then fund that need, not spread the budget across the city. I already know of one crossing patrol that has disappeared in Acocks Green - the one that helps my own children across Fox Hollies Road every morning has been relocated to Spring Road.

That's only the start of it - there's a further quarter of a million in 'efficiency savings' to be made as well. While I'm sure that it is possible to find efficiencies in any organisation, these seem to be more about slashing jobs - cuts are on the way! They even had the nerve to class a £69,000 funding boost from the Neighbourhood Renewal Fund as an 'Efficiency Saving.'

The poor councillors looked quite confused by the whole thing - it seemed as though this was the first time that the Liberal Democrat district chair had seen the budget proposals. After much discussion, it was agreed that the proposals as presented were worthless and the budget was held over until the next meeting. Of course, the Liberal Democrats had already passed the budget through full council on the 28 February, so we're really just waiting to see if the explanations get better.

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