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Birmingham faces strikes after claims of £10m service overspend despite budget cuts

Birmingham City Council could be facing strikes from its refuse collection workers who have today started voting in a ballot to decide whether to take action against their employers.

The dispute is over accusations of financial mismanagement by council leaders who, according to union officials, have overspent in this area by £9.7m.

This has stirred up anger amongst the membership of the Unite union, which believes that this overspending is to blame for proposed cuts to jobs by the council.

Unite also stated that it is talking with Birmingham City Council’s waste management department about the cuts – which the council has stated are down to shrunken budgets and austerity measures.

The ballot will close on 14 June, and if the vote is passed, strikes look likely to take place over the busy summer period.

“We engaged with waste and refuse bosses in a constructive manner only to learn that it was a massive overspend which is driving these cuts and not austerity measures,” said Unite regional officer Lynne Shakespeare.

“To date, despite repeated requests, we have not been given any information as to how and why such a huge sum was overspent in a year. Instead bosses are ploughing on with their cuts leaving workers to pick up the pieces for their financial mismanagement and taxpayers out of pocket.

“We would urge management to begin listening to the workforce and to start talking meaningfully with Unite to avoid the prospect of industrial action in the coming months.”

And Jacqui Kennedy, corporate director for Place at the Council confirmed that due to "pressures and demand" the authority would have to find savings of around £10m annually, and said that "doing nothing was not an option". 

"The proposals we are consulting on will achieve all of these objectives and bring the council’s waste management service into line with many other councils nationally," she said. 

“For some staff this could mean taking up a different role, and there are sufficient vacancies within the new structure proposal to ensure that all affected staff have this opportunity. We are also looking at how we can make promotion opportunities available for those potentially affected.

“What we have developed is a carefully considered and informed model that will ensure our services are on a sound and affordable footing for the future."

And Kennedy also added that the council remained focussed on ensuring that all its services made the best use of public funds and were high quality for the public. 

“It is evident that there are more cost effective ways of working in refuse collection. The consultation period has already been extended twice at the request of the trades unions to enable them to develop some alternative proposals," she also stated. 

“Management are committed to working closely with union colleagues to help them produce alternative proposals. It is therefore disappointing this action is being encouraged whilst we continue to work so closely.”

This comes after a number of warnings about overspending from the Birmingham local authority. At the start of March, the council admitted that financial challenges remained “difficult” despite projections that aimed to balance the books over the next few years.

And back in February, an independent review stated that though plans were robust, any overspending at all in 2017-18 or 2018-19 could put the council’s financial sustainability at serious risk.

Top Image: Cristian Bortes

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