birmingham

BIRMINGHAM LABOUR’S ELECTION PLEDGES

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TECH CITY

We’ll bring science and industry together to boost jobs of the future with a new University Enterprise Zone at the city’s heart.

A CITY OF APPRENTICES

We’ll create a Birmingham Apprenticeship Agency by bringing businesses and colleges together to double the number of apprentices over the next 18 months.

A LIVING WAGE CITY

We’ll work to get 10,000 more Brummies off the minimum wage of £6.31 and on  to a living wage of at least £7.65.

TACKLING CHILD POVERTY

We’ll create a Birmingham Child Poverty Commission to help the city’s schools, social care, health services and employers break the poverty that blights the lives of a third of our children.

TACKLING DRUG USE AND CRIME

We will always put victims first and tackle anti-social behaviour.  We will campaign to put police back on the beat.  Thousands are blighted by drug addiction and the crime that feeds it.  We will work with the NHS and the police, in a fighting partnership, to clean up addicts and take out their suppliers.

QUALITY HOMES

We’ll build 70,000 more houses over two decades and tackle rogue landlords to improve the quality of rented homes.

LEISURE AND OPEN SPACES

We’ll replace old leisure facilities with a £36m investment in leisure centres and work with residents to manage parks and open spaces.

STANDING UP FOR YOU IN EUROPE

Only Labour will protect rights at work such as 4 weeks paid holiday and time-off for Mums and Dads when their children are born.  The Tories and UKIP want to end these rights.

LABOUR’S ELECTION MESSAGE

Labour has got Birmingham moving again. More businesses opened their doors here, last year, than anywhere else outside London. We won more investment than anywhere else with the biggest Enterprise Zone in Britain. Our Youth Jobs Fund is getting young people back to work. Specialist school teaching is starting to give young people the skills they need for work. Now we want to go further: ¦ investing in jobs of the future; ¦ boosting apprenticeships; ¦ stepping up the fight for a Living Wage and the fight against child poverty; ¦ investing in new leisure centres and green spaces; ¦ driving out crime and drugs; ¦ building more homes for local people and driving out rogue landlords. This Tory-Lib Dem government has got it in for us. They’ve cut Birmingham’s budget twice as hard as the UK average – while giving Britain’s millionaires a tax cut. Only Labour is campaigning for energy bills to be frozen until 2017, free childcare for 25 hours a week for 3-4 year olds, a 10p rate of tax for the low-paid and a small firms business rate cut. Only Labour can make the difference; for Birmingham and for Britain.

While the Tories obsess over Europe, ordinary people struggle

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Since the county council elections nearly two weeks ago and the supposed inexorable rise of UKIP, the Conservative Party has been occupied with an old enemy: Europe. The Queen’s Speech, much to the dismay of Tory backbenchers, contained nothing concerning a referendum on British membership of the European Union. Worried about the UKIP ‘threat’ to their seats, Tory MPs, including, unbelievably, cabinet ministers, have been falling over themselves to condemn the EU, call for a referendum and let David Cameron know just how strongly they feel about an issue that is, truthfully, way down the list of priorities for the vast majority of voters. Instead of showing leadership of his party, Cameron is performing his own tribute act to John Major and following it. Except whereas John Major tried to face down the ‘b*stards’ in his own party that sought to undermine him over Europe, Cameron acquiesces to their every demand and indulges their every whim.

A strong leader would not only attempt to assert some kind of control over his party, but also remind them that there are rather more important things at stake. The Queen’s Speech did nothing to help ordinary people who are struggling and nothing to improve our economic situation. U-turns on welfare reforms or tax cuts for the richest would have been welcome as people across the country struggle to make ends meet as a result of these damaging policies that have been implemented over the last month, yet they remain in place. There is still no coherent plan from the government for jobs and growth, more vital than ever as the rate of unemployment increased again today for the second month running, and at the current rate the government will not have eliminated the deficit for another 422 years. This is what the Tories should be agitating over – instead they are only concerned with going back to the 90s and fighting among themselves over Europe. Ed Miliband has rightly said that we should concentrate on the big issues facing people rather than argue over a referendum; Labour, once again, is fighting the corner of ordinary people while the Tories show just how out of touch they really are.

There are few places where the effects of the government’s harmful policies are being felt as much as they are in Birmingham. As the Birmingham Mail reported this week, nearly 2,000 Birmingham residents have requested access to emergency housing funds, an increase of 50% on the previous year, as the effects of the dreadful bedroom tax start to be felt across the city. While the City Council is able to provide some help, thanks to the government, there will still be a massive shortfall and many people suffering from the bedroom tax will not get the help they need. The Council has also secured extra Council Tax Support funding, reducing the burden on the unemployed and people on low incomes, yet this only mitigates the misery imposed by the Tory-led government. In difficult times, Labour is doing whatever it can locally to help those in need and try to build a better city and a better country, while the Tories play games with each other over Europe, ignoring the everyday issues that people face.

There is a debate to be had over Europe, and the EU has much to offer us as a city and as a country. When there are so many other important issues at hand, however, this is not the time for the Tories to be indulging in their favourite past-time of Euroscepticism. Ordinary people are struggling to make ends meet. Birmingham residents will see a government that is not standing up  for them, not acting to improve their lives and not taking into account their fears and concerns, but a government that is distracted by UKIP and its own Eurosceptic backbenchers and is incapable of showing leadership. Labour is doing all it can to ensure a fair deal for Birmingham residents; the Tories appear as though they could not care less.

Why we need to talk about welfare

The true depth of the Tory policies that make the lives of those poorest, more wretched become clearer on a daily basis.

You will have seen my video highlighting the need to campaign for a fair deal for Birmingham, and within it, details touching upon those groups beginning to feel the real bite.

In ‘wake up and smell the roses‘ I reflect on research published by the Financial Times that uncovers the continuing divide between rich and poor, and the way in which the Tory led welfare reforms are impacting harder on the North than on the leafy suburbs in the South. We have seen this unfairness in the cut of £149 per person in Birmingham compared to just £19 in Berkshire.

Cameron’s outright attack on the poorer parts of society is vicious and vindictive, turning neighbour on neighbour and communities on communities. As an answer to the economical crisis it offers no credibility.

The right wing ideology being purported is dangerous and might easily play into the hands of fascist groups preying on the vulnerabilities of both those struggling to survive and those who feel others are getting more than they deserve.

The Telegraph today report that free school meals could soon be scrapped and people paid to look after elderly neighbours as councils take desperate measures to deliver a “tidal wave” of spending cuts. All councils face desperate decisions about the services that people value and rely on with the unfair cuts being imposed by central Government.

Hilary Wainwright writes for CLASS and argues that “we are facing government policies of such inhumanity that if they are allowed to be carried through, we will look back in years to come with deep horror and shame. From the attacks on disability benefits to the bedroom tax, these measures return us to the kind of society where poverty was blamed on the poor and gross inequality was accepted as an economic inevitability.”

The Myths of Welfare has just been released and as Wainwright argues, “it exposes the tall tales used to disguise the ideological dogma of government attempts to replace our welfare state with US-style residual ‘relief’  for the poor”… it is well worth a read and provides hard alternatives to the war on welfare that Cameron dictates.

Birmingham, as a result of Cameron’s welfare reforms are facing a total annual impact of £419m with the total annual impact on each working age adult being £607. Social housing tenants in Birmingham face cuts to housing allowances totalling £10.15m, reductions in tax credits of £92m, in disability benefits of £30m and to incapacity benefit of a whopping £92m.

We are not all in this together and never forget it.

Ed at the People’s Policy Forum in Brum

Watch Ed Miliband’s full speech to the People’s Policy Forum in Birmingham. To join the debate at http://www.yourbritain.org.uk

Time to stand up and be counted

In the midst of a media frenzy that focused on the Leveson-inspired Royal Charter for press regulation you could be excused for not being aware that MPs on Tuesday were debating a piece of emergency legislation that could set a dangerous precedent and threaten civil liberties.

For Labour MPs, the vote should have been very clear, very straightforward, very simple as the Tory led government had been defeated in the courts because quite simply, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) had been found to have broken the law.

Workfare and the spurious ideology that underpins it has been exposed by the ongoing activism of community campaigning groups such as Boycott Workfare, and came to the fore as a result of action taken by a young woman from Birmingham, Cait Reilly, who refused to work for free in Poundland as this prevented her from undertaking voluntary work at the Pen Museum in Hockley.

This brave action, standing up against the Tory rhetoric of ‘scrounger v striver’, and against an aggressive right wing press who have determinedly portrayed our growing army of young unemployed people as workshy scroungers lacking any real aspiration or initiative, Cait took the Tory Government to the courts, and the courts found in her favour.

The Court of Appeal ruled that the DWP had illegally sanctioned unemployed people who had been forced to work for free. The Court noted that the ‘Workfare’ scheme itself was not breaking the rules; but ruled that the DWP had not given sufficient legal information to those on workfare about what they were required to do, and their rights. As a result of violating the law, the Court of Appeal awarded damages of between £530 and £570 to jobseekers who had been illegally forced to work for organisations such as Poundland for no pay.

The response of the DWP was to immediately table the Jobseekers (Back to Work Schemes) Bill.  This bill, effectively reversing the Court of Appeal’s decision in order to “protect the national economy” from the claims of the other 225,000 participants in Workfare and similar schemes whose cases might result in compensation claims for the government of over £130 million.

This response was not surprising; with the Tory led government seemingly declaring themselves as being above the law and pushed through legislation rushed through Parliament on the quiet, to initiate proposals to change the law retrospectively.

Tuesday’s vote should not have been clearer for our Labour leadership, in the knowledge that a Tory Government had been defeated in the courts because it broke the law.

The vote should have been clear for our Party, being the one organisation that avowedly supports ordinary people, and at this juncture in Britain’s history, is needed more than ever to rescue working people and hard working families from the savage austerity foolishness that this Tory led Coalition is espousing.

Our Party surely would not bolster the Tories, assisting them with their onslaught against some of the poorest in society and allowing them to ride roughshod over British law?

43 Labour MPs (including Hall Green’s Roger Godsiff) stood by the true tenets of the Party, standing up for core Labour values of decency and justice, breaking the whip of abstention and voted against the proposal.

Our Party, formed in unity to provide a collective voice, and to improve the living and working conditions of the working classes have seemingly let us down.

Have those who we put our trust in, to represent our interests and our Party values lost touch with their founding roots and have the ‘ordinary’ working classes been abandoned?

Like many party members out there I am struggling to understand what went so very wrong and believe that those involved in the decision to abstain on the bill, and those who espoused the party line should not only face up to the ire of us all but be held accountable for their actions.

Labour is in a strong position to win the next election but only if it continues to confront the coalition on basic issues of social justice. Our Party must not make this mistake again.

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Cllr McKay’s response to our open letter…

Thank you for your letter of 28th February.

I absolutely agree that the views of residents need to be taken into account when decisions are made over how the wheelie bin scheme will operate.  As you may know, we have now started a City-wide consultation with residents around the best way to roll out the wheelie bin scheme.  This will involve an open-access online questionnaire with paper copies available in libraries and neighbourhood offices, and consultation with specific groups, such as tenants, conservation areas, and disability organisations. The survey can be found here: www.opinionresearch.co.uk/birminghamwheeliebins

Based on experience in other local authorities, we estimate that 90-95% of households will be able to use wheelie bins.  The consultation process will help us to understand where exceptions need to be made.  We have already said that the sort of exceptions that we would need to think about include: major problems with rear access; and where the physical features of the homes make such bins impractical.  Also, we will be continuing with assisted collections where people are unable to manage their bins. The results of the consultation will give us much better understanding of these issues, but the central message to send out is that we are very aware that one size does not fit all.

The City-wide consultation will let us shape our policies for the roll-out.  However, this will need to be translated to the household level, prior to roll-out, in every neighbourhood in the City.  That is why we will assess the suitability of every property prior to roll-out, and then write to every householder, opening up the opportunity for a further conversation around suitability.  This will happen before bins are delivered to households.

With respect to the proposed charges for green waste collection, this needs to be set in the context of the scale of the budget cuts the City is facing.  We were forced to cut more than £100m from the budget last month, with hundreds of millions more to come in future years.  If Birmingham only faced the same reductions per head of population as everywhere else, with the pain equally shared across the country, the cuts to services would be far less severe.  But the Government has not chosen to apply this logic, and the people of Birmingham will see their services heavily impacted as a result.

What that inevitably means is that many services in Birmingham will have to either be completely transformed, or stopped altogether.  The garden waste collection service began in 2001 in Birmingham, and was fully rolled out by 2007. However, we can no longer afford to run the service as it currently stands.  At the moment it operates at a large subsidy, and the changes we are introducing will move it towards a cost-recovery basis.  But I do of course totally agree with the general point, these cuts will have consequences, and that is what we are saying again and again to Government.

With all best wishes,

Cllr James McKay
Harborne ward
Cabinet Member for a Green, Safe and Smart City

Labour and the Birmingham City Council cuts

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The Council budget, set out by Sir Albert Bore this week, was comfortable for nobody. The harsh reality cannot be escaped; over £100 million cuts to services and 1,000 jobs lost is not something that anybody can take lightly, least of all the councillors responsible for taking the decisions on what to cut and what not to cut. Labour councillors, including our own Councillors Sam Burden and Barry Bowles, have made extraordinarily difficult choices with a very heavy heart.

 Yet we should not forget that the Council’s hands have been tied by the Tory-led government, making swingeing cuts to local government that fall unfairly on large Labour administrations such as Birmingham. Residents of Hall Green and others across the city are paying the price for the government’s economic failure and ideological determination to punish Labour councils. The Liberal Democrats are, of course, as responsible for these cuts as the Conservatives. The irony of Councillor Tilsley calling Labour’s budget ‘shameful’ will, I’m sure, be lost on nobody. His party is complicit in the failing economic plan pursued by the government that is damaging our country and our community.

There are those who claim that Labour should simply refuse to make the cuts; that setting an illegal budget would be a way of showing resistance to central government and ensure that Birmingham residents do not have to suffer the painful consequences of such deep cuts. Unfortunately, this is not a practical way forward for Labour to deal with the situation. Steve Bullock, mayor of Lewisham, outlined why this is the case for Progress in January. Failure to set a legal budget would mean that Eric Pickles’ DCLG apparatchiks would be responsible for delivering the cuts. As is the Tory way, their primary concern would not be making cuts as fair for possible for ordinary people as Labour are doing, but simply to save money, no matter how many jobs or valuable services were lost in the process.

Of course, this is not to say that all resistance to government cuts is futile; Bullock is fairly heavy-handed in his direct criticism of Len McCluskey, and trade unions are absolutely justified in their outrage at an economic plan that is hurting their workers and hurting the country. Nationally, Labour continues to articulate an alternative by opposing cuts to police and welfare budgets, the bedroom tax and tax cuts for the richest few while promising to reintroduce the 10p income tax rate. There is a fairer way, and everybody who is opposed to the government’s disastrous strategy should join Labour and the unions in making a case for an alternative that not only secures economic growth but is fairer on ordinary working people, rather than punishing them while unfairly prioritising rewards for those at the very top.

Our Labour Council is working hard to make things fairer for ordinary people in Birmingham despite the difficult financial situation. The Council is committed to a Living Wage of more than £7 an hour for all council employees. In Hall Green, Councillor Bowles is determined to continue campaigning for additional facilities for children and young people, an in particular will keep campaigning for a new playground  despite opposition from Liberal Democrats.

Plans such as this may seem small in the grand scheme of the national economic situation, but it shows that it is Labour, not the other parties, who is truly committed to improving people’s quality of life and delivering a fair deal for Birmingham in extremely tough times.

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